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Monday’s NFL roundup: Goodell to Kaepernick: ‘I wish we had listened earlier’

Jon Becker
Mercury News

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell again expressed remorse for how he and the league reacted when Colin Kaepernick started kneeling in protest during the national anthem four years ago.

During an interview with ex-NFL linebacker Emmanuel Acho of Fox Sports 1 posted Sunday, Goodell said he wished “we had listened earlier” to the message the former 49ers quarterback was trying to deliver.

Artist Alvin Pettit removes the stencil on the finished portrait of football player and civil rights activist Colin Kaepernick painted on the Black Lives Matter mural on Grand Street Aug. 8 in Jersey City.

Goodell repeated an apology he made in June for equating players kneeling to them disrespecting the flag, rather than an indictment on racial inequality and police brutality as Kaepernick intended.

“I wish we had listened earlier, Kaep, to what you were kneeling about and what you were trying to bring attention to,” Goodell said on Acho’s show ‘Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man’ when asked what he’d say to Kaepernick.

The commissioner said he and the league should have had a conversation with Kaepernick long ago.

“We had invited him in several times to have the conversation, to have the dialogue,” Goodell said. “I wish we had the benefit of that. We never did. And we would’ve benefited from that, absolutely.”

Goodell said Kaepernick and those who followed him in protest, including then 49ers teammate Eric Reid, shouldn’t have been vilified as un-American.

“These are not people who are unpatriotic. They’re not disloyal. They’re not against our military,” said Goodell. “In fact, many of those guys were in the military, and they’re a military family. And what they were trying to do is exercise their right to bring attention to something that needs to get fixed. And that misrepresentation of who they were and what they were doing was the thing that really gnawed at me.”

One day after many players released a video criticizing the NFL for not condemning racism after the May 25 death of George Floyd, the league released its own video. In it, Goodell apologized for the league not doing a good job of listening to concerns by players on racial inequality. Goodell was criticized for just making a cursory mention of Kaepernick.

“We had spent time prior to that understanding all the frustration, fear and sadness. When the video came out on Thursday it was very powerful. It was appropriate for me to respond,” Goodell said in June. “We should have listened to our players earlier including Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid, Kenny Stills, Malcolm Jenkins and so many people really brought these issues to light.”

Despite Goodell encouraging the league’s 32 teams to give Kaepernick a chance to resume his career, no team has offered the 32-year-old a tryout. But Kaepernick hasn’t had a real opportunity to play since 2016 because of the widespread backlash from his protests and his subsequent civil rights activism.

Gates decision

The Miami Dolphins will allow up to 13,000 socially distancing fans to attend their home opener against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 20, a decision that divided political leaders and upset the visiting coach.

The same plan will be followed for the University of Miami’s home opener against UAB at the Dolphins’ stadium on Sept. 10.

Crowd size will be about 20% of the stadium’s 65,326-seat capacity, with the limitation imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Groups of spectators will be spaced 6 feet apart.

Fifteen of the NFL’s 32 teams have ruled out spectators to start the season. The Dolphins are one of at least eight teams hoping to have a limited number of spectators, and many teams haven’t announced plans.

At a news conference, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez applauded the Dolphins’ plan and safety upgrades.

“They’re not going to make a lot of money this season,” DeSantis said. “Putting all the money they did into this to give fans the ability to watch some football in person, I think, means a lot.

“Look, we’ve been watching sports on TV. But when you watch the NBA with an empty arena, or Major League Baseball with an empty stadium, it’s just not quite the same. I know this isn’t going to be people falling from the rafters here, but I think it is something that will give people a little bit of hope.”

DeSantis said the state’s virus numbers are trending in an encouraging direction. But South Florida remains a hot spot, and not all reaction to the Dolphins’ plan was favorable.

U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, who served as the secretary of health and human services during the Clinton administration, expressed concern about the safety of those attending games.

“It is very difficult to open anything when you have community spread,” said Shalala, former president at the University of Miami. “We still have community spread in South Florida. So the kinds of precautions that need to be taken are extraordinary, and I think it’s going to be very difficult to do. … There is no question that it’s risky.”

The NFL competition committee decided earlier to allow fans where permitted by state and local governments. Denver Broncos coach Vic Fangio dismissed the need for a blanket policy regarding spectators.

“I really don’t give a damn about that,” Fangio said. “If we can play in a stadium that’s full, half-full, third-full, home or away, we’re happy. That shows progress with the COVID.”

Personnel dept.

New England re-signed veteran kicker Nick Folk, giving rookie fifth-round draft pick Justin Rohrwasser some competition for the job as the Patriots look to replace Stephen Gostkowski, who was released in March.

... Cleveland rookie safety Grant Delpit was carted off the practice field with a right Achilles injury.

... Atlanta released guard Jamon Brown, who started nine games in 2019.

... Las Vegas receiver Tyrell Williams has a torn labrum in his shoulder that he will try to play through this season.

... New Orleans cut linebacker Nigel Bradham and placed defensive back Johnson Bademosi on injured reserve.