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NFL apologizes for handling of anthem protests, Trump scolds Brees for backing down on flag

NFL commissioner says league was 'wrong' about the way it handled players' earlier concerns about racism.

Updated: June 6, 2020 - 12:38pm

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The National Football League on Friday night apologized for its handling of past player protests during the national anthem, saying it was "wrong for not listening" to players earlier concerns about racism.

The apology was part of a tweet from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that also called on Americans to engage in protests peacefully in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody last month.

"We, the NFL, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black People," Goodell's tweet said. "We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the NFL, believe Black Lives Matter."

President Trump, who led efforts to criticize players who knelt during the national anthem, weighed in Friday night on Twitter too, scolding star QB Drew Brees for backing down from his defense of the American flag with two apologues after players criticized him.

“I am a big fan of Drew Brees. I think he’s truly one of the greatest quarterbacks, but he should not have taken back his original stance on honoring our magnificent American Flag,” Trump tweeted.

“OLD GLORY is to be revered, cherished, and flown high … We should be standing up straight and tall, ideally with a salute, or a hand on heart," her added. "There are other things you can protest, but not our Great American Flag - NO KNEELING!”

Brees earlier this week said he opposed players kneeling during the anthem, saying he would "never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country.” But after a backlash from figures across the sports world, the New Orleans Saints quarterback issued too apologies saying his remarks were insensitive.

In making its apology Friday night, the NFL said professional football would not exist without the contributions of black athletes.

"I personally protest with you and want to be part of the much-needed change in this country," Goodell said. "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.”

The statement came after 10 days of protests across the nation over Floyd's death, and one day after star players like Saquon Barkley of the New York Giants recorded a video urging the league to condemn racism.

It also marks a significant turnabout for a league that once threatened to fine players for kneeling in protest during the national anthem, a movement started in 2016 by quarterback Colin Kaepernick and publicly condemned by President Trump as anti-patriotic.  

Kaepernick hasn't played football since that season.

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