American football bosses have admitted they got it wrong for failing to listen to players protesting against racial injustice.
The climbdown comes after NFL stars released a video demanding the league condemn racism following the death of George Floyd in the US, which has sparked protests across the country and around the world.
The NFL had previously banned players from taking a knee, a peaceful protest gesture started by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, during the playing of the national anthem ahead of a game in 2016.
The kneeling pose has been widely adopted by those demonstrating against police brutality in the wake of Mr Floyd’s death.
Who was George Floyd?
The unarmed, handcuffed black man, died in Minneapolis last week after a white police officer pressed his knee against his neck, ignoring his “I can’t breathe” cries.
The US is bracing itself for further anti-racism protests, while in the UK, people have been urged not to take part in mass demonstrations this weekend because of the continuing coronavirus health crisis.
…We should be standing up straight and tall, ideally with a salute, or a hand on heart. There are other things you can protest, but not our Great American Flag – NO KNEELING!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 5, 2020
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a video on the NFL twitter page: “It has been a difficult time for our country. In particular, black people in our country.
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“First, my condolences to the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and all the families who have endured police brutality.
“We, the NFL, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people.
“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.
“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 centuries of silence, inequality and oppression of black players, coaches, fans and staff.”
He added: “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 family.”
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The statement comes after Donald Trump again criticised protesters who kneel during the national anthem.
The US president also said NFL quarterback Drew Brees – who had said he “will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States” – should not be sorry for calling it “disrespectful”.
Brees has since apologised for his comment.