WASHINGTON — It took more than two years and thousands of voices on the topic, but embattled NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell may have finally found his position for the player protests during the National Anthem.
“We want to get to a point where we can actually make positive change because people come to our stadiums to have fun, to be entertained, not to be protested to,” he told Bloomberg’s David Westin at The Year Ahead Summit on Wednesday.
Goodell and NFL owners have generally aired on the cautious to the resistant side of the protests, with owners like Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys and Bob McNair of the Houston Texans being staunchly opposed.
Goodell and the NFL have struggled to strike the right tone on the topic, watching it balloon from a simple statement from one or two players into a massive socio-political spectacle.
Now, Goodell may have finally defined where the NFL stands on the issue and provided a clear reason why it doesn’t want players to get involved.
“I’ve been clear about this: the anthem, respect for our flag is really important, so I want to see players stand (instead of kneeling),” Goodell said. “Players repeat over and over again this isn’t about disrespect for our flag or military or our veterans. And I believe them. But they also have to understand that it is interpreted much differently on a national basis.”
Earlier this season, President Donald Trump used a political rally speech to criticize players and owners on the topic, encouraging owners to fire players who protest during the anthem. At that time, only a handful of players around the NFL were still participating.
The Sunday after his comments, nearly 200 players responded by kneeling during the anthems in their respective games, with some owners joining the players in a sign of “unity.”
Things took a turn again in recent weeks, as official NFL pizza sponsor Papa John’s blamed the protests for losses during the third quarter call with investors.
This news came at the same time that the NFL has struggled with TV ratings, watching viewership fall below last year’s low-water marks during the election campaign season. Multiple surveys, both in 2016 and 2017, have cited the protests as a reason to stop watching the sport altogether.
Now, with the toothpaste already out of the tube and no rules on the books to stop the protests, Goodell is giving his best appeal to players through the media.
“We live in a very divided society right now,” he told Bloomberg. “I think that’s one of the things that, when we have the platform the way we do, people seek to find that division. That’s something we try to resist.
“Getting into politics isn’t something [that we do]. Values aren’t necessarily about politics. Values are a way we do things — making sure we do things at higher standards. I believe people expect that of us. We accept that and welcome that. But it’s [about] keeping the focus on the game.”