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The NFL’s public shift on the Black Lives Matter movement, which led to a Friday video from commissioner Roger Goodell condemning racism and admitting wrongdoing, started with an Instagram DM.
“Hey Mike,” it began.
Bryndon Minter wasn’t sure Saints receiver Michael Thomas would even read the message. He knew it could get him fired. He continued anyway.
“Want to help you create content to be heard around the league,” Minter wrote. “I’m a NFL social employee and am embarrassed by how the league has been silent this week. The NFL hasn’t condemned racism. The NFL hasn’t said that Black Lives Matter.
“I want [to] help you put the pressure on. And arm you with a video that expresses YOUR voice and [what] you want from the League. Give me a holler if you’re interested in working together, thanks bro!”
Within 15 minutes, Thomas wrote back. Twenty-four hours later, he and other prominent black NFL players published a powerful video. Within another 24 hours, tens of millions of people watched it – and it had changed the league’s relationship with social injustice for good.
On Friday morning, NFL employees convened via Zoom for a company-wide town hall. Some had, in the preceding days, been “angry” and “exasperated,” says Nick Toney, another social media staffer. At the virtual town hall, brave employees shared emotional stories.
“People cried,” Toney says. “People were upset. People had prepared statements. People revealed that they hadn’t slept in days over this. People asked very direct questions.”
Colin Kaepernick, sources say, was mentioned multiple times.
Goodell took those questions, then later in the day took to his basement camera.
“We, the NFL, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people,” Goodell said, just as the players had demanded. “We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the NFL, believe Black Lives Matter.”
‘That’s what inspired me to go rogue’
The public shift, in reality, began with employee frustration that dates back to 2016. That’s when Kaepernick first took a knee to protest racial injustice and police brutality. The aftermath, Toney says, was “crazy and scary at times.” Internally, some employees weren’t happy with the league’s response. A group of them had already formed the Black Engagement Network. BEN wanted the league to publicly recognize the subjects of Kaepernick’s protest and support it. The league did not.
Almost four years later, in the wake of George Floyd’s death, those subjects arose again, and so did frustration. In deep conversations, social staffers dreamed up their ideal NFL response. While acknowledging it was a “fool’s errand,” they crafted strong, pointed statements — the type they hoped the league would release. Then, last Saturday, they had to hit send on the actual one, which, Minter says, “we felt was empty.”
On Monday, they were still posting highlights, going about business as usual against their will. “We came to a point where we didn’t feel comfortable posting stuff like that,” Minter says. Distress spread in private discussions. Employees expressed concerns in meetings. Those who spoke up got supportive Slack messages from co-workers they didn’t know.
“The sentiment was pretty unanimous,” Minter says. “We wanted a simple acknowledgement that we, as a company, condemn racism.”
Instead, they got promises but nothing “actionable.”
“We didn’t feel like our voices were heard,” Minter says. “And that’s what ultimately inspired me to go rogue.”
On Wednesday night, he circumnavigated standard protocol for NFL video producers and reached out directly to Thomas. They had no personal relationship, but Thomas was immediately on board. Thomas entrusted Minter with drafting a script the players could read on camera. Minter went for a walk and called Toney. Toney’s first idea got shot down. Then he realized: For days, we’ve been talking amongst ourselves about what we wished the NFL would say. What if the players told the league to say it?
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