National Football League (NFL) commissioner Roger Goodell does not want players to kneel during the national anthem. The league’s top executive revealed as much in a letter to team owners and other senior managers yesterday (October 10).

“We live in a country that can feel very divided,” Goodell writes in the memo, which he sent ahead of meetings with NFL team owners next week. “Sports, and especially the NFL, brings people together and lets them set aside those divisions, at least for a few hours. The current dispute over the national anthem is threatening to erode the unifying power of our game, and is now dividing us, and our players, from many fans across the country.”

The “dispute” Goodell references started last season, when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started protesting racist policing by kneeling the during the pre-game national anthem. The protests grew from there and reached a peak two weekends ago, when players and executives across the league linked arms and sometimes knelt in opposition to president Donald Trump’s demand that the league fire protesting players. Goodell denounced Trump’s call at the time, but as he suggests in the memo, he believes players can reduce outrage towards their politics by standing during the anthem.

“Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the national anthem,” he continues. “We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us. We also care deeply about our players and respect their opinions and concerns about critical social issues. The controversy over the anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues. We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that with our players.” 

Goodell’s memo also mentions plans to discuss civic engagement on unspecified “core issues” at next week’s meetings. One of those plans—”an in-season platform to promote the work of our players”—sounds reminiscent of the organized month for grassroots activism that the Players Coalition previously recommended.

Read the full memo, as tweeted by NBC News: 


Many social media users criticized the Goodell for minimizing the protests’ opposition to racial injustice, and prioritizing racist fans’ outrage over Black players’ advocacy. Here are seven tweets that capture the criticism: