- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 7, 2020

Watching the video of a white police officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck until the black Minneapolis man stopped breathing left Adrian Peterson, like many Americans, angry and frustrated. Having to explain it to his children was difficult.

“It’s hard for me to sit there and say, ‘Son, it’s mainly because of the color of his skin,’” the Redskins running back said. “The look on his face is he’s lost because he’s confused. He doesn’t fully understand the dynamic of things right now.”

Floyd’s death — and the decades of police brutality and racism it’s come to symbolize for millions across the country — is why the 35-year-old said he will kneel during the national anthem at NFL games this fall, he told reporters Friday at a charity event in Houston.

Peterson is among the Redskins and other Washington athletes speaking out in the wake of the massive outpouring of protests. Beyond the former MVP, quarterback Dwayne Haskins marched in the District over the weekend and reportedly had a meeting scheduled with Mayor Muriel Bowser.

Rookie defensive end Chase Young joined a video last week featuring NFL stars like Saquon Barkley, Patrick Mahomes and Odell Beckham Jr. that called for the league to condemn racism — something that Commissioner Roger Goodell eventually did, issuing an apology to players Friday.

In a statement, Goodell encouraged players to “speak out and peacefully protest” — admitting the NFL was wrong for not listening to its athletes earlier.

“Without black players, there would be no National Football League,” Goodell said. “And the protests around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality and oppression of black players, coaches, fans and staff. We are listening. I am listening, and I will be reaching out to players who have raised their voices and others on how we can improve and go forward for a better and more united NFL family,” Goodell said — though the statement itself did not specifically mention Colin Kaepernick-style kneeling protests.

If the NFL does have a new stance, it would be a dramatic shift from its old approach. In May 2018, NFL owners voted to allow teams to impose discipline for protests during the anthem — only for the policy to be shelved months later. The league’s owners had been seen as largely against kneeling. An ESPN The Magazine article from 2017, for instance, described Washington’s Daniel Snyder as a “pro-stand owner.”

President Trump weighed in after Goodell’s Friday statement — tweeting “There are other things you can protest, but not our Great American Flag — NO KNEELING!” Trump has been a frequent critic of the NFL and its handling of player protests. In 2017, he called for Kaepernick and any other protesting player to be fired.

As the NFL braces for another possible feud with Trump, players have taken to the streets to protest police brutality. On Sunday, Haskins uploaded photos of himself protesting, including the caption, “Stand for something or fall for anything.” In one of the photos, the 23-year-old is raising his fist in solidarity next to a “Black Lives Matter” sign.

Haskins has yet to elaborate on Floyd’s death publicly, but he pushed back against social media criticism last week when a fan tweeted that he had not made a statement. Haskins wrote that he had a “lot to say,” added he had learned to not just “run to social media” to speak out.

Haskins also dismissed another fan who said the quarterback was worried about losing endorsement deals.

“Child please I’m my own brand,” Haskins tweeted. “Humble yourself. Last time I checked you don’t take money with you when you pass. Care about the legacy you leave. Stop acting like one tweet is going to change the world. As you can see we hurt each other more than uplift the next man.”

Haskins wasn’t the only athlete to attend protests around the country and Goodell wasn’t the only executive sounding a more conciliatory tone on race and protests.

Denver Broncos general manager John Elway tweeted Friday night that he spent much of the week listening to his players and coaches and realized that views he’s held for decades were wrong.

“I always thought that since I grew up in a locker room, I knew everything there was to know about understanding teammates from different backgrounds and walks of life,” Elway wrote. “What I’ve realized is that I could not have been more wrong.

“Listening to players and reading their social media, the strength they have shown and the experiences they have shared has been powerful. It has impacted me. I realize I have a long way to go, but I will keep listening and learning,” Elway added.

Broncos players marched in Colorado with quarterback Drew Lock and coach Vic Fangio, who apologized last week for saying he believed there was no racism in the NFL.

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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