NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent, the highest-ranking African-American in the league office, was proud to see football stars use their platforms to push Commissioner Roger Goodell to say the league's response to player protests was wrong.
Joining NFL Network's Good Morning Football on Tuesday, Vincent said he appreciated the Commissioner's statement decrying systematic oppression of black people and hopes players continue to use their voice to push the conversation.
"Frankly, I loved what the Commissioner, his comments to the players were," Vincent said. "And I think it's so important that we, America, as the players have been stating four years ago -- and I want to name these individuals specifically 'cause it's so important to name them. Anquan Boldin, Malcolm Jenkins, Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid, Chris Long, Kelvin Beachum, Michael Bennett, Kenny Stills. These issues are what these individuals, these players, were talking three, four years ago -- we just weren't listening. And they keep saying that, and the message gets twisted and convoluted and people inject politics. These individuals, these players, they were leading on these efforts trying to bring this to our attention."
Vincent, who shared his own message about having to have "the talk" with his son about interacting with police, said that players need to be seen as more than just entertainers, but as vocal leaders throughout the country.
"What we have here is we have a gap that has to be bridged between the playing field of our players (and) our fan base," he said. "And what do I mean by that? The fans love cheering for the player. They love him on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays. When he takes the jersey off we go silent. That can't happen. The players are asking when the helmet comes off I need you to love me beyond my jersey, beyond me entertaining you on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays. But they've been very clear from the very beginning on what the issues are. We just haven't been listening."
Vincent noted that key voices like Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson taking part in the players' video that went viral last week, must remain amplified. But the NFL EVP added that those voices much reach the owners' boxes, the most powerful people in the sport.
"We have to turn that action into solution," he said. "That starts with you, one, registering to vote, both in your local market and nationally. This is how we put voice to action. Keep having civil conversations. I'm speaking to the (Super Bowl) MVP (Patrick Mahomes) in particular. You have a call to action to the Commissioner. Deshaun Watson, a call to action to the Commissioner. That same conversation has to go to the second floor, speaking of (Chiefs owner) Clark Hunt and (Texans owner) Cal McNair. They have to hear from you if these issues are important to you. Because it's one thing to challenge the Commissioner, one thing to challenge our office, but we've got to put these words into actions. So we have to speak to your head coach about it, speak to your general manager. We have to continue bridging this gap between player and community."
Vincent played 15 NFL seasons from 1992-2006 in Miami, Philadelphia, Buffalo and Washington. He underscored that the message from peaceful protesters like Kaepernick and Reid was about bringing awareness to social injustice.
"We all want the same, to be clear. We all want justice," he said. "We know that life is precious. So let's be clear. The Black Lives Matter, it was misconceived as this militant movement. No, no, stop it, timeout. We just wanted you to know that our lives matter as well. Life is precious, I think we'd all agree with that. This is not some militant movement. This is about you hearing what our struggles are on a daily basis. Not that one is more important than the other, but our lives matter. I say let's speak now into action. The Facebooks, the Twitters, the hashtags, put your words into action, and we welcome you into the conversation that we have a daily basis around these issues. We welcome you into that conversation."
The conversation has been warped at certain times by the misconception that the player protests that began with Kaepernick in 2016 were about the American flag, which was brought back into the forefront by comments from Saints quarterback Drew Brees last week. Brees apologized multiple times, finally noting in an Instagram message to President Donald Trump that the peaceful protests during the national anthem weren't about the flag or military.
Vincent noted that he would forgive Brees for the insensitive comments.
"We all want the same thing. We have black players, we need our fellow brothers," Vincent said. "America needs a locker room. We need a huddle-up. The one thing that the locker room does well, we learn how to adjust. We learn to coexist and love one another inside that common goal. When we return back, we saw the ugliness of our country on camera, we've been seeing it. But now the global world is calling a timeout. When we've all had a chance to reflect and ask ourselves what role do we play because these issues of racism are all of our issues.
"So, when you go back to the locker room, you've got to love your fellow players, in particular Drew (Brees). Drew made a comment, but we have to forgive Drew for that comment, just like our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ forgives us for our transgressions and things that we do. How could we cast judgment? Hey, he's our teammate, he apologized, we accept his apology, believe him at that and we move forward. That has to happen in every locker room."
How the NFL and the rest of the country move forward in the wake of nationwide protests after the killing of George Floyd will tell the ultimate story of how much progress will be made after the latest tragedy.