NFL commissioner Roger Goodell expressed remorse earlier this week.
Nearly four years after the day Colin Kaepernick first knelt in protest during the national anthem, and two days before a white police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, Goodell considered the league’s initial response to anthem protests.
“I wish we had listened earlier, Kaep, to what you were kneeling about and what you were trying to bring attention to,” Goodell told former NFL player Emmanuel Acho during an episode of his “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man” series.
“What our players are doing is being mischaracterized,” Goodell continued. “What they were trying to do is exercise their right to bring attention to something that needs to get fixed. That misrepresentation of who they were and what they were doing was the thing that really gnawed at me.”
On Thursday, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones was asked about Goodell’s statement. Did Jones agree with Goodell’s assessment that the league was wrong not to listen earlier?
“I’m not going to comment on that at this point,” Jones told Dallas radio station 105.3 The Fan in his regular appearance. “Obviously everybody, I have respect for what everybody has to say about any of these situations. Everybody has their own way of getting their hands around it. It’s obviously a big challenge. As I said, every organization, every office, every place looks at it a little different, including whether you’re the NFL or you’re an individual club, everybody has their views on different things.
“So, certainly have respect for everybody’s opinions and views, but probably as far as I’d go with that.”
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has issued strict protocol for his players in previous seasons. Jones instructed his players to stand, toes on the line, during the playing of the national anthem. The owner didn’t speak about social injustice and police brutality in the immediate aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd in May. Earlier this month, during Jones’ first public comments since Floyd’s death ignited protests, Jones said he had been listening.
“We’ve had very, very sensitive times,” Jones said Aug. 12. “I have nothing to prove as far as where I’m standing with the flag and where the Cowboys stand. I have nothing to prove regarding my players and my support of the players. What I do want us to show and be a part of is a word called ‘grace.’ Not only grace in our actions, but grace in our understanding of where they’re coming from. I want our players to understand the perception of where they’re coming from regarding flag, and the sensitivity there and the many memories there. I want our fans to understand … where our players are coming from.
“The ones who want to basically do that, to kneel, do not feel like they’re dishonoring the flag.”
The Cowboys continue to discuss whether they’ll kneel, some players saying they want the team to be united in any gesture. Defensive tackle Dontari Poe plans to kneel. Jones and Poe each have said they plan to meet and discuss Poe’s intention.
Nine NFL teams canceled practice Thursday (the Detroit Lions canceled Tuesday’s practice) to show solidarity, discuss how they can use their platforms, and mobilize toward pressuring policy change on racism and police brutality. The Cowboys participated in a previously scheduled voter education session Wednesday and convened their player’s council. But they didn’t acknowledge the week’s events in a team setting before their Thursday morning practice.
As practice concluded, center Joe Looney preached to a cluster of kneeling and standing teammates on the center of the Ford Center turf. Players prayed. Conversations continued in offices, meeting rooms and the locker room. At the Cowboys’ afternoon team meeting, players reckoned with how to better support their community, left tackle Tyron Smith said.
“The term I struggle with right now is we all feel sports is a great ‘escape’ for tough times in our society,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “It’s supposed to be the entertainment. But you can’t escape what’s going on right now. We got major, major challenges in our society right now that need to be addressed.”
Stephen Jones expressed “heartfelt prayers” for the Blake family in his radio appearance.
“That’s just so disturbing and difficult to see this happen,” he said. “This has to stop at some point. We’ve got to certainly bring awareness of what’s going on to the forefront.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
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