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Dan Bickley

NFL needs to seize moment, extend apology to Colin Kaepernick

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) walks off the field after an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015. The Steelers won 43-18. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Words matter. Every letter counts. In the midst of nationwide racial unrest, you must choose them wisely.

Following the chilling killing of police suspect George Floyd, sports franchises are learning they must tread carefully, especially with the alphabet. Teams are being judged on (A) if and how soon they released a statement; (B) the sincerity of their words; and (C) and the daring of their words, how much they condemn the systemic racism suddenly engulfing America.

Roger Goodell’s statement? His words never had a chance. And that’s a big problem for the NFL moving forward.

Let’s all start here: To truly heal and unite as country, we must all agree on an assortment of horrible truths. Same goes with the NFL.

The league must admit that Colin Kaepernick was more prophetic than problematic. More right than wrong. He warned us all. His message shouldn’t have been distorted by a league that knew better but caved to public opinion. That he paid for it with his career.

The NFL must apologize.

It won’t happen, of course. Duh. Too many NFL teams wouldn’t even put a toe in the water following the outbreak of violent protests, afraid/unwilling to extend unwavering commitment to social reform for fear of upsetting the wrong audience. To their credit, the Cardinals are not one of those teams.

But players trust Goodell as far as they can throw him. His official statement is well-crafted, eloquent and dripping with hypocrisy. No one’s buying any of it.

“Save the (B.S.),” Texans wide receiver Kenny Stills said on Twitter.

NFL players have been growing bolder in recent years. Their union has been abused too often in the past. Many players have criticized the “plantation mentality” of NFL owners, stating things they would’ve only whispered in another time and place. They are willing to expose the NFL as a ruthless and heartless partner, and Goodell’s attempt at empathy in wake of recent events is simply laughable.

So. As a writer, I hereby offer Goodell the following paragraph free of charge, for the good of all involved:

“The NFL would like to officially acknowledge and apologize to Colin Kaepernick. While the NFL doesn’t condone any player using the national anthem or our football fields as a platform for their own political beliefs or personal protests, we all share the blame. We should’ve listened better. We should’ve been invested in him. We should’ve focused on his message and not the anger it provoked, recognizing him as a visionary and not the enemy. We should’ve found a way to learn what spurred him to action, and what moved him to protest. Had we listened, we might all be living in a better place.”

Those words would go a long way. It might even inspire some NFL team to sign Kaepernick, who is still profoundly better than Blaine Gabbert. Nothing could be more powerful in re-aligning Goodell with his players moving forward, when the spirit of cooperation is vital.

Words are important now because this is a time for declaration. To stand on the right side of history. It’s especially critical to owners of NBA and NFL franchises, where blacks make up for an overwhelming percentage of their professional athletes.

In the NBA, the Wizards’ statement was hailed for its courage. The Suns opened up their heart, doubling down on the sentiments of head coach Monty Williams. The Knicks failed spectacularly, creating internal revolt with their grossness. In golf, a critic told Tiger Woods that time spent crafting his milquetoast message would’ve been better spent on the putting green.

This is the new world, one Goodell and the NFL must wholly embrace.

To date, the league has had a great offseason. Tom Brady is in Tampa. Marquee quarterbacks have switched teams. Free agency and the draft went uninterrupted by a pandemic. The schedule release made us all quiver with anticipation.

But if you’ve learned anything from 2020, you know obstacles are coming. Issues that require trust and partnership between players and owners. If Goodell wants to avoid more anthem protests on Sundays and more skepticism from his players in the future, he will seize this moment. He will bring this moment to the doorstep of Kaepernick, along with an olive branch. Out of respect.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.


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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier