opinion

Goodell Must Have Known That, Too

He had to have understood what Kaepernick's protest was all about. Beyond the simple logic of what Kaepernick was doing, he explained it again and again. The quarterback was clear, and Goodell is surrounded by people who could have further clarified what taking a knee was all about.
Dec 4, 2020Updated 14 days ago
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Goodell Must Have Known That, TooGoodell Must Have Known That, Too
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There was a ton of conversation about this. When Kaepernick began kneeling at NFL games as a gesture in support of Black Lives Matter, both the media and the league itself discussed the protest at length for months on end. There were dozens of articles that came out in the first few days alone after he first began his protest. Whether in interviews or through other media, the nation as a whole discussed this at length.
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The owners talked extensively about it. The discussion among the NFL went on for months. There was even a league-wide summit on it. In that summit, the owners spoke with executives and players to reckon with the meaning of the protests. The summit even included insight from some of Kaepernick's closest confidants.
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Goodell organized a summit in 2018 in which 30 of the top owners, players, and league executives got together to discuss the kneeling protests. The three-hour, closed-door meeting was a rare opportunity for players and owners to meet and discuss the topic together. In the meeting, Eric Reid—Kaepernick's former teammate and the first NFL player to join his protest—said he felt the league had "hung [Kaepernick] out to dry." According to the New York Times, he added: “Nobody stepped up and said we support Colin’s right to do this. We all let him become Public Enemy No. 1 in this country, and he still doesn’t have a job.” The owners, for their part, were more concerned that continued ire from President Donald Trump over the protests was becoming a black mark on the NFL. The Eagles owner, Jeffrey Lurie, warned against being "baited" by Trump, saying the NFL needed to present a united front. During the course of that meeting, Goodell would have been able to hear from all sides of the discourse in order to understand what the protest was all about.
And there were an inordinate number of news articles about it. Coverage appeared in nearly every major news outlet, ranging from conservative to liberal. Especially in the weeks following Kaepernick's first protest, the articles were nearly non-stop. One major newspaper published more than two dozen articles in the first two weeks alone.
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Discussion of Kaepernick's protest appeared in nearly every major news outlet, from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal to cable news networks. For example, the New York Times published 27 articles in the two weeks (Aug. 30—Sept. 12) following the initial incident. Similarly, The Wall Street Journal published the article, "Sixteen Thoughts on Colin Kaepernick" Sept. 7, 2016 discussing the issue. The NFL's own media outlet conducted an exclusive interview with Kaepernick in which he explained his position, immediately after the game Aug. 26, 2016 when he took a knee. What's more, the media discussion lasted for years. The articles and stories have not stopped since Kaepernick first kneeled in 2016.
Taking a knee to show objection to something is a simple concept. The gesture has existed in human body language for at least a thousand years. It is easily recognized as a gesture of respect or deference, or even a sign of mourning or sadness. Taking a knee is so common that it even exists in other mammals.
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Kneeling is one of the most understandable and recognized positions a person can take. It is a simple position to enter into for the person kneeling and is easily identified by observers. It takes its cues from a core principle in mammalian nonverbal behavior: reducing the body's appearance shows respect, esteem, and deference. According to an article in Scientific American, kneeling "...is seen, for example, in dogs and chimps, who reduce their height to show submissiveness." The Scientific American went on to write: "Kneeling can also be a posture of mourning and sadness. It makes the one who kneels more vulnerable. In some situations, kneeling can be seen as a request for protection." The act is so obviously polite that it has stood as a sign of respect for thousands of years. For example, Christianity cites it in numerous instances in the Bible. In Psalm 95:6 it states, "Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;" in Chronicles 29:29, "Now at the completion of the burnt offerings, the king and all who were present with him bowed down and worshiped," and in Mark 10:17, "As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" to name a few.
The NFL is a huge organization. Goodell has a complete organization of lieutenants and advisors that could have helped explain it to him. One of his thousands of employees, including his close personal contacts, could have given Goodell insight into Kaepernick's protest. He must have either ignored their insight or not asked their advice.
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The NFL has close to 3,000 employees according to LinkedIn. As the head of an organization with such a large staff, Roger Goodell clearly has a litany of support available to him. Roger himself is a highly paid executive, earning over $34 million according to the NFL's 2014 Form 990, with other reports showing his earnings greater than $40 million each year from 2013 to 2018. With compensation this high as the head of a large organization, he obviously has a lot of assistants, advisors and officers reporting to him. His list of first officers includes a number of highly paid executives, with a CFO, EVP & General Counsel, EVP of Media, EVP of Business Ventures, EVP of Football Operations and EVP of Human Resources, each earning over $1 million per year. Additionally, the organization's Form 990 shows over $6 million paid to Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrisson LLP, one of New York's top law firms. Obviously, he has plenty of attorneys available to advise him, too. Any number of these colleagues likely could have explained the meaning behind the protests, had he so asked. That Goodell continued to misunderstand seems to represent willful ignorance on his part.
CLOSURE
Goodell could have drawn on available information in the media, from his organization—or even just using common sense—to understand Kaepernick's protest. His misunderstanding therefore came from his own willfulness.
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