Brian Flores has proven himself the most outspoken member of the Miami Dolphins organization in recent weeks, making his feelings known on the silence that has echoed in the racial injustices that have had the country up in flames since the murder of George Floyd. And while team owner Stephen Ross has done much in the way of community service in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which his constituents have suggested bleed into the Black Lives Matter movement, one ESPN reporter is calling him out on suppressing the voices of his players.
On Hour 2 of Monday’s Dan Le Batard Show broadcast on ESPN Radio, Howard Bryant joined hosts Dan Le Batard and Stugotz to discuss the impact of the NFL’s statement in support of the league’s black players.
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The NFL’s Repeated Attempts at Changing a Narrative
On May 30, the NFL released a statement on the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in Minneapolis who was killed by a police officer while others looked on. While tragedy and condolences were acknowledged, the statement failed to ever mention the words “racism” or “police brutality,” which brought significant backlash to the league. Top receiver Michael Thomas was one of many dissatisfied players, who organized a group of fellow black NFL athletes to make a new statement “on behalf of the NFL.”
The video, posted on June 5, features Saquon Barkley, Odell Beckham Jr., Ezekiel Elliott, Patrick Mahomes, and Tyrann Mathieu, among others. It called for the league to not only specifically recognize the Black Lives Matter movement, but admit their historical faults in suppressing the voices of their players in peaceful protests. Roger Goodell responded with his own video, answering their requests, on June 6.
Recent Origins: Colin Kaepernick
On Dan Le Batard’s program—one of the most diverse at ESPN Radio—Howard Bryant expressed his concerns regarding the statements made by Goodell and the league.
“Has anybody made more of a line in the sand about how they felt about protests than the NFL? I mean, they told us exactly how they feel,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a corporation in America that was more clear about how they felt about this than the National Football League.”
Bryant, of course, was referring the protests that began when 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first sat, then took a knee during the national anthem, as a statement in contempt of an America that “oppresses black people and people of color.” Subsequently, the NFL has been accused of “blackballing” Kaepernick, as he has not been signed to an NFL team since his mutual departure from the Niners at the end of the 2016 season.
While the NFL has attributed their problems to a lacking of listening, Bryant fails to see it as such. “You did a lot of listening,” he says to the league. “You listened to your white fan base, you listened to the white players … you just didn’t listen to [Kaepernick].” And now, he wonders what they plan to do about what they’re hearing. Because, as Bryant points out, a commissioner’s statement is only as powerful as the clubs he manages.
The Implication of Stephen Ross
In admitting their selective listening, Bryant notes that it doesn’t constitute any action or changes to the policies in place. “Let’s not forget that in addition to that admission, you still have Steve Ross with the Dolphins essentially agreeing to add more restrictions to the punishments of kneeling. You still have Jerry Jones essentially saying, ‘Nobody who kneels is playing for this team,” Bryant said on Monday’s radio program. “So what does that admission mean if, in real-time, the players are still restricted from expressing anything.”
As the demonstrations spread across the league, Stephen Ross was initially one of the more supportive owners in the NFL. Many of his players had participated in anthem protests since 2016, including Jay Ajayi, Jelani Jenkins, Kenny Stills, and Laremy Tunsil. The team briefly banned kneeling in 2017 in response to loud disapproval from President Donald Trump, and on March 5, 2018, Ross told the New York Daily News that “All our players will be standing.”
While the players who protested with acts of kneeling and linking arms have insisted that their doing so was purely in support of equality and condemnation of injustice, Trump’s spin denounced the acts as unpatriotic and disrespectful of the United States military; a side that Ross chose to take.
“When that message changed, and everybody was interpreting it as that was the reason, then I was against kneeling,” Ross said to the Daily News. “I like Donald. I don’t support everything he says. Overall, I think he was trying to make a point, and his message became what kneeling was all about. From that standpoint, that is the way the public is interpreting it. So I think that’s really incumbent upon us to adopt that.”
The Future of Dolphins Protests
At the June 1 kickoff of the Miami Dolphins Food Relief Program, geared towards assisting the Miami Gardens community with 1,000 free meals a day for a year, Ross was notably absent. But the events of the previous weekend loomed over the organization. Dolphins Presidents and CEO Tom Garfinkel shared Ross’s sentiments over the nation’s outcry for justice.
“Steve said to me, ‘Race relations in this country are not good right now, unemployment is at an all-time high, and now is the time to help people,’” he said. “We don’t think this is a problem that’s going away.”
But while Roger Goodell attempted to make amends for the league as a whole, Bryant points out a crucial step that remains to be taken: “He didn’t say that the owners were on board.”
And for Ross, it’s a crapshoot to project. Will he follow the fold, and concede to what the league supports and other owners recognize as acceptable? Or will he beat his own drum in the name of his own interpretations of a national crisis between right and wrong?
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