NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a televised interview on CNBC on Monday that he does not believe free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been "blackballed," and that the league is open to meeting with him at any time.
When asked directly if he believes Kaepernick should be playing in the NFL right now, Goodell said that, "every club's got to make those decisions" and tiptoed around the question. The commissioner was then asked about the belief that Kaepernick, who has yet to sign with a team after becoming a free agent in March, is being blackballed from the league, a viewpoint expressed by NBA star LeBron James, among others.
"I don't agree with that," said Goodell, who signed a five-year contract extension last week that reports indicate could be worth up to $200 million. "Again, I think our teams are making the best decisions for what they need as a football team."
Kaepernick first took a knee during the national anthem early last season as a means of protesting racial inequality and police brutality in the United States. Dozens of NFL players have since followed his lead, even as critics — including President Donald Trump — have slammed the demonstrations, calling them unpatriotic and disrespectful to the military.
Kaepernick, who last played for the San Francisco 49ers, has yet to sign with a team and has since filed a collusion grievance against NFL owners.
In late October, Kaepernick was not invited to a meeting between league officials and the players' coalition, a group of current and former players that has worked with the league on issues involving race and social justice. Goodell told CNBC that "we've always invited Colin" to meet and discuss those issues.
"He's always welcome to come over and meet at any point in time. So we've had an open door on that," Goodell said. "There were some meetings set up with the players' coalition, they were invited by the players' coalition. My understanding is they extended the invitations in that circumstance. But he's always welcome to join that. The players' coalition is an entity that we've been working very closely with and frankly we've had unprecedented dialogue."
The NFL and the players' coalition recently agreed to a deal that could provide nearly $90 million to social justice reform efforts. The agreement did not stipulate that players stop protesting during the national anthem, though Goodell reiterated again Monday that "we want all our players standing."
The Associated Press reported that at least 16 NFL players protested during the national anthem Sunday.
"A very limited number," Goodell said, "and we think that we're going to be able to address that at some point in the future. We want all our players standing."
Does that mean the NFL will create an edict to that end?
"I think from our standpoint, we think we're going to be able to address this effectively," Goodell told CNBC.
Contact Tom Schad at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.