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6 Jun, 2020 10:00

NFL boss says 'we were wrong' over stance on player protests – but Trump yells 'NO KNEELING'

NFL boss says 'we were wrong' over stance on player protests – but Trump yells 'NO KNEELING'

The NFL is on an apparent collision course with President Donald Trump after commissioner Roger Goodell said the league "was wrong for not listening to players earlier" in the row over protests against racial inequality in the US.

Goodell responded to the ongoing unrest in the US following the death of George Floyd in a message on Friday, after being called on by a number of high-profile NFL players to condemn racism.  

"We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people," Goodell said in a message posted to social media.

"We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all players to speak out and peacefully protest.

"We, the National Football League, believe that black lives matter."

"Without black players, there would be no National Football League, and the protests around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality and oppression of black players, coaches, fans and staff.

"We are listening. I am listening. And I will be reaching out to players who have raised their voices and others on how we can improve and go forward for a better and more united NFL family."

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The admission of regret from Goodell follows renewed criticism over the NFL's handling of the 'take a knee' protests against police brutality, initiated by then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016.

Kaepernick's act was soon followed by numerous others in the NFL and across other leagues, although the protests were met with fury in some quarters – including President Trump – who accused those behind them of disrespecting the US flag, anthem and military.

The NFL moved to ban on-field protests in 2018, while Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers a year earlier and later sued the league for alleged collusion between team owners not to sign him due to the controversy surrounding the protests.

The two parties settled in 2019 in a confidential agreement, but Kaepernick remains on the sidelines.

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Goodell's fresh show of remorse seemingly sets him and the league on course for a clash with Trump, who reiterated his opposition to the 'take a knee' protests on Twitter on Friday. 

Trump was responding after veteran New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees apologized for comments in which he said he would "never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag."  

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After Brees backtracked and asked for "forgiveness," Trump tweeted that the star should have stuck to his original stance, while demanding 'no kneeling' in the NFL. 

Brees later responded to Trump directly in a message on Instagram.

"Through my ongoing conversations with friends, teammates, and leaders in the black community, I realize this is not an issue about the American flag," Brees wrote. 

"It has never been. We can no longer use the flag to turn people away or distract them from the real issues that face our black communities.

"We did this back in 2017, and regretfully I brought it back with my comments this week.

"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... 

"We as a white community need to listen and learn from the pain and suffering of our black communities. We must acknowledge the problems, identify the solutions, and then put this into action.

"The black community cannot do it alone. This will require all of us." 

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