WATCH: NFL boss admits league was 'wrong' over protest response
WASHINGTON - Roger Goodell, the National Football League (NFL) commissioner, on Friday said that the league was wrong in not actively encouraging peaceful protests against racial injustice.
The video statement by Goodell is an astounding backtrack for the NFL, which saw national controversy over a kneeling protest in 2016 led by then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
The killing of George Floyd last week has sparked a national protest movement and renewed scrutiny of the NFL and the league's relationship with its predominately black players.
"We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier, and encourage all to speak out an peacefully protest," Goodell said. "We the National Football League believe black lives matter."
"Without black players there would be no National Football League," he said, without mentioning Kaepernick by name.
The action taken by the 32-year-old, who led the San Francisco 49ers to the 2013 Super Bowl, came at a personal cost.
He did not renew his contract with the club when it expired in early 2017. Since then, he has not played an NFL game despite being widely regarded as a high-quality quarterback.
US President Donald Trump, who has long been vocal on his opposition to Kaepernick's actions and to kneeling protests in sports, meanwhile doubled down on his stance.
Trump on Friday tweeted criticism of New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees for publicly apologizing over comments he made about anti-racism protests.
Brees sparked fierce criticism from teammates and several leading US athletes, including NBA superstar LeBron James, when he told Yahoo news portal he would "never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country."
In the apology on Instagram, he said his comments were "insensitive and completely missed the mark on the issues we are facing right now as a country."
Trump wrote on Twitter that Brees "should not have taken back his original stance on honoring our magnificent American flag."
"We should be standing up straight and tall, ideally with a salute, or a hand on heart. There are other things you can protest, but not our Great American Flag - NO KNEELING!"
In a later post alongside an image with the words "To President Trump," Brees wrote on Instagram that "this is not an issue about the American flag."
"We must stop talking about the flag and shift our attention to the real issues of systemic racial injustice, economic oppression, police brutality, and judicial & prison reform," he wrote.
"We as a white community need to listen and learn from the pain and suffering of our black communities," he added.dpa