Three and a half years later, the NFL has admitted it was wrong.
On Friday night, the league released a video address from commissioner Roger Goodell saying the NFL encourages its players to join the nationwide, peaceful protests against racial inequality and police brutality and failed to listen to players when they protested in prior seasons.
"We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people," Goodell said. "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. We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter."
In 2016, former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was severely criticized for peacefully protesting the same inequalities and brutalities by kneeling during the national anthem before his games. Kaepernick's contract expired the following offseason. He has not taken an NFL snap since.
On Thursday, several league stars, including Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, came together to release their own video that condemned racism and challenged the league to cop to "silencing our players from peacefully protesting." Early in the 2017 season, Pats players were among those who took a knee and locked arms after President Trump took aim at the league in a series of tweets and speech that described a player who protested as "a son of a (expletive)." Patriots defensive backs Devin and Jason McCourty are among those who have been outspoken this offseason in their support of those protesting across the U.S.
According to Goodell, the NFL plans to listen to those protesters, which Friday included a number of prominent players and coaches.
"We are listening, and I will be reaching out to players who have raised their voices, and others on how we can move forward together for a better and more united NFL family," Goodell said.
Prior to Goodell's address, the NFL released a statement last week expressing condolences to George Floyd's family, as well the families of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. He reiterated those condolences on Friday.
"It has been a difficult time for our country," he said, "in particular black people in our country."
Goodell later added: "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."