Letter to NFL about National Anthem policy

Roger Goodell
National Football League 345 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10154

June 18, 2018

Dear Mr. Goodell:

The undersigned organizations, each of which is devoted to protecting the full civil and human rights of all Americans, write to strongly object to the National Football League’s coercive new rule requiring players to stand during the national anthem.1 This policy represses peaceful, non-disruptive protest of police violence against unarmed African Americans and other people of color. It is disappointing that a league built on grit and competition lacks the constitution to stomach a call for basic equality and fairness.

Kneeling during the anthem seeks to raise awareness of police brutality and violence routinely perpetrated upon unarmed and nonviolent people of color. Even though people of color are only around 37% of the population, they are about 63% of unarmed people killed by the police.2 Police are twice as likely to kill unarmed African Americans as white people.3 African Americans experience physical force or its threat during police encounters up to three times as often as whites; Hispanics up to twice as often.4 Over and over again, our racially-biased criminal justice system causes families of color to mourn loved ones killed and maimed by excessive force. Afterward, this same system routinely fails to hold unreasonably violent officers accountable.

The NFL in particular should be better attuned to the ongoing struggle for racial justice. Yet, its own franchise suffers from significant racial disparities. 70% of NFL players are black, yet 75% of head coaches and 100% of team CEOs and Presidents are white men.5 No team has a majority owner who is African American or Hispanic.6 Racially-biased police violence can also threaten players’ safety;7 the recent decision to mandate the silence of players wishing to demonstrate for civil rights is even more appalling against the backdrop of the glaring racial disparities in the NFL.

President Trump, responding to the NFL’s new rule, said to those who take a knee, “[Y]ou shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there, maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.”8 This race-baiting attempt to alienate people of color is repugnant to America’s core values. Athletes who choose to kneel during the national anthem to peacefully protest police violence embody the best patriotic ideals of our nation. Protesters striving to create a more inclusive democracy define the history of this country; there is no better way to honor our national symbols than to fight for equal justice for all.

Compelling players to stand for the national anthem erodes the values that the flag represents and tells the world that the NFL does not care about racial justice. We urge you to reconsider your position.

Thank you,

Kristen Clarke, President & Executive Director Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Anthony Romero, Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union

DeRay McKesson, Activist, Campaign Zero

Rashad Robinson, Executive Director, Color of Change

Angela T. Rye, Esq., Principal and CEO, IMPACT Strategies

Derrick Johnson, President and CEO, NAACP

Judith Browne Dianis, Executive Director, Advancement Project

Dr. James J. Zogby, President, Arab American Institute

Vincent Warren, Executive Director, Center for Constitutional Rights

Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., President and CEO, Hip Hop Caucus

Farhana Y. Khera, President & Executive Director, Muslim Advocates

Rev. Al Sharpton, President & Founder, National Action Network

Heather C. McGhee, President, Demos

Vanita Gupta, President and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Monifa Bandele, Vice President and Chief Partnership & Equity Officer, MomsRising

Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

Caroline Fredrickson, President, American Constitution Society for Law and Policy

Melanie L. Campbell, President & CEO, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation

Marielena Hincapié, Executive Director, National Immigration Law Center

Fatima Goss Graves, President and CEO, National Women’s Law Center

Hill Harper, National Ambassador, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Thomas A. Saenz, President and General Counsel, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund

Anna Galland, Executive Director, MoveOn Civic Action

Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Co-Convener, National African American Clergy Network

Michael Waldman, President, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law

Janice L. Mathis, Executive Director, National Council of Negro Women, Inc.

Debra L. Ness, President, National Partnership for Women & Families

Lakshmi Sridaran, Director of National Policy and Advocacy, South Asian Americans Leading Together

1 See, e.g., Kevin Breuninger, NFL bans on-field kneeling during national anthem, CNBC (May 23, 2018), https://www.cnbc.com/2018/05/23/nfl-bans-on-field-kneeling-during-the-national-anthem.html.

2 See German Lopez, Police shootings and brutality in the US: 9 things you should know, Vox (May 6, 2017), https://www.vox.com/cards/police-brutality-shootings-us/us-police-racism; Jon Swaine et al, Black Americans killed by police twice as likely to be unarmed as white people, The Guardian (June 1, 2015), https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jun/01/black-americans-killed-by-police-analysis.

3 Id.

4 The Sentencing Project, Black Lives Matter: Eliminating Racial Inequity in the Criminal Justice System, 11 (2015), http://sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Black-Lives-Matter.pdf.

5 The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, The 2017 Racial and Gender Report Card: National Football League (Oct. 18, 2017), http://nebula.wsimg.com/1a7f83c14af6a516176740244d8afc46?AccessKeyId=DAC3A56D8FB782449D2A&disposition=0&alloworigin=1.

6 Id.

7 See, e.g., Phil McCausland, NFL’s Michael Bennett Says Police Threatened to ‘Blow My Head Off,’ NBC News (Sept. 6, 2017), https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/nfl-s-michael-bennett-says-police-threatened-blow-my-f-n799276; Video shows Georgia police slamming ex-NFL player to the ground, CBS News (April 27, 2018), https://www.cbsnews.com/news/desmond-marrow-video-henry-county-georgia-police-today-2018-04-27/.

8 Domenico Montanaro, Trump Praises NFL Decision, Questions If Protesting Players Should Be In The Country, NPR (May 24, 2018), https://www.npr.org/2018/05/24/613976960/trump-praises-nfl-decision-questions-if-protesting-players-should-be-in-the-coun.


Last modified 

June 20, 2018