NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement Friday condemning systematic racism and apologizing for "not listening to NFL players earlier" when they tried to address racial injustice.
"We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people," Goodell said in a video posted to social media. "We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest."
He continued: "We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter. I personally protest with you and want to be part of the much-needed change in this country. Without black players, there would be no National Football League. 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 concluded.
Goodell's statement on social media drew comparisons to Colin Kaepernick, who took a knee during the national anthem to take a stand against police brutality and racial injustice in 2016.
Politicians, team owners and fellow players criticized him, fans burned his jersey, and he was booed even at home. Four years later, his protest is widely viewed as prescient. Global opinion has shifted so much that more people are now vilifying those who attack Kaepernick or misrepresent his stance.
George Floyd's death, which ignited nationwide protests over racial injustice and police brutality, awakened many people to the root of the issues that led to Kaepernick's peaceful demonstration - an expression meant to raise awareness of such issues, not demean the flag or the anthem. The 32-year-old Kaepernick hasn't played in the NFL since 2016.
"The protest is really trying to hold us accountable for the things we say we believe in. It's about equality and justice for all," said Houston Texans wide receiver Kenny Stills, who has been taking a knee since Week 1 of the 2016 season.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.