With a tweet shortly before midnight Sunday, President Donald Trump questioned whether NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was saying “that it would now be O.K. for the players to KNEEL, or not to stand, for the National Anthem” when Goodell stated in a video that the NFL was “wrong for not listening to NFL players” who protested police brutality and social injustice.

Trump called Goodell’s video a “rather interesting statement of peace and reconciliation” over an issue he helped fuel into a national debate during the 2017 NFL season, when players followed Colin Kaepernick’s example and took a knee or raised a fist during the national anthem. Although players made it clear they were not protesting the flag or the military, Trump repeatedly sent a message saying otherwise at the time, and on Sunday night he reiterated that protests equal disrespect.

“Could it be even remotely possible that in Roger Goodell’s rather interesting statement of peace and reconciliation, he was intimating that it would now be O.K. for the players to KNEEL, or not to stand, for the National Anthem, thereby disrespecting our Country & our Flag?” Trump wrote.

In this Sept. 18, 2016, file photo, San Francisco 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick (7) and Eric Reid (35) kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers, in Charlotte, N.C. ASSOCIATED PRESS

The NFL did not immediately respond to Trump’s tweet, but, over the weekend, before Trump’s latest remarks on players’ protests, a person familiar with the league’s planning said “there’s no change for 2020” to the NFL’s anthem policy, pointing out that no players have been disciplined for protesting during the anthem in the two seasons since a standstill agreement with the NFL Players Association was put in place.

NFLPA spokesman George Atallah wrote Monday on Twitter: “Keep the energy focused on the ‘why.’ We protest and demonstrate to demand change.”

In May 2018, NFL owners approved a modified anthem policy in which players were given the option to remain in the locker room for the anthem. The league was empowered to fine a team for any protest during the anthem; it was left to the team involved to decide whether to discipline a player for any protest. The NFL Players Association filed a grievance and reportedly contemplated potential litigation. The standstill agreement put both the owners’ modified anthem policy and the union’s grievance on hold, and it has remained that way.


Goodell’s message that “black lives matter” came Friday, after days of protests across America following the May 25 death of George Floyd, who died after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Goodell’s video came after black stars like Patrick Mahomes, the young face of the NFL, Deshaun Watson, Odell Beckham Jr., and Ezekiel Elliott appeared in a powerful video organized by Michael Thomas in which they asked that the NFL condemn racism and admit that the league had been wrong.

“What if I was George Floyd?” they asked, going on to ask that the league state that black lives matter. Goodell did just that.

“We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people,” Goodell said in the video. “We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter.”

Goodell added that he would be reaching out to players and wants “to be part of the much-needed change in this country.”

“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,” he continued. “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.”

Goodell’s comments Friday came with little input from owners, according to a person with knowledge of the league’s inner workings, who added that most but not all owners are expected to support Goodell’s stance. That person said there could be an issue between Goodell and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who has said in the past that Cowboys players must stand for the anthem. The Cowboys did not respond to a request for comment over the weekend.


Some observers have criticized Goodell for not mentioning Kaepernick by name during the video. In response, one person familiar with the league’s view pointed out that the players did not mention Kaepernick’s name in their video, either. The wording of Goodell’s comments mostly was drawn from the wording in the players’ video.

As protests were taking place across the country last week, the issue was brought home again to the NFL by Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who reiterated his stance that he would never refuse to stand for the anthem. “I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country,” Brees said, going on to speak of his grandfathers’ military experiences. Brees quickly apologized and promised to educate himself, but Trump said earlier Friday that he should not have done so.

In an open letter to Trump on Instagram Friday night, Brees explained how his opinion had changed. “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 said. “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.”

Kaepernick, who began to kneel in the summer of 2016, stated from the outset that his protest was aimed at police and not the troops, but the following season Trump seized on the moment. In September 2017, Trump encouraged owners to release players who knelt. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b—- off the field right now?” he said during a rally in Alabama. “Out! He’s fired. He’s fired.'”

As the 2020 season approaches, the landscape is different. Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson told the Houston Chronicle that he was “without a doubt” planning to kneel in protest this season, and that he expected many other players would, too. But the start of the season remains months away and, as last week showed, the situation across the country is changing rapidly.

“It just feels – and I know everyone feels this – it feels like the Earth is spinning faster than it was before,” Dominique Foxworth, the former NFL player and former president of the NFL Players Association, told The Post. “It just feels like everything is moving so quickly.”

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