Athletes’ outpouring on civil unrest rekindles Colin Kaepernick debate in NFL

By Ken Belson, The New York Times

The outbreak of civil unrest initiated by the death of George Floyd has brought about an unusual outpouring from players, coaches and officials in the NFL, which has wrestled publicly with issues of race and racism more than other leagues. In some instances, however, long-standing disputes about whether the league takes the issue seriously enough have been rekindled.

For several years, discussions about race in the NFL have largely focused on Colin Kaepernick and the kneeling campaign he began to raise awareness of previous bouts of racial injustice and brutality toward African American people at the hands of the police. While some black players came to his defense, the quarterback has been without a job in football and reached a settlement with the NFL over his accusation that he had been blackballed.

This time, a broader range of players and team officials has chosen to speak out. Brian Flores, one of the four black or Latino coaches in the league, said in a searing statement that he lost friends in the NFL because of their opposition to Kaepernick, and he urged those who were against his protests to show similar outrage over the killing of Floyd.

“Many people who broadcast their opinions on kneeling or on the hiring of minorities don’t seem to have an opinion on the recent murders of these young black men and women,” Flores said.

In contrast to previous outcries over racial injustice, some white players have added their voices this time on the topic, which has been a third rail in a league where three-quarters of the players are African American yet almost every owner and top team executive is white. Only a few white players had joined or supported their black teammates when they took a knee during the playing of the national anthem in recent years.

“I don’t understand the society we live in that doesn’t value all human life,” Carson Wentz, the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, wrote Thursday on Twitter. “My prayers go out to every man, woman, and child that has to endure the effects of racism in our society.”

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ new quarterback, Tom Brady, who has sidestepped questions about his friendship with President Donald Trump, joined the Players Coalition in calling for an investigation into the death of Ahmaud Arbery, an African American killed by two white men while jogging near Savannah, Georgia.

The NFL’s commissioner, Roger Goodell, issued his own statement late Saturday saying “the protesters’ reactions to these incidents reflect the pain, anger and frustration that so many of us feel.”