Gregg Popovich says Roger Goodell 'folded' after Trump criticized NFL players protesting

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich believes NFL commissioner Roger Goodell “folded” when President Donald Trump criticized players kneeling to protest police brutality during the national anthem. As for any credit to the league for now finally saying that black lives matter in a league statement? He’s not sure about that.

Popovich spoke with the New York Times' Maureen Dowd about race and the issues surrounding it. He criticized NFL owners, Goodell and Trump — though to a far lesser degree than when he called him a “fool in place of a president” — regarding hypocrisy and their stance on race issues.

Popovich calls out Goodell: ‘Flag is irrelevant’

Popovich criticized Goodell for waiting until last week to say that black lives matter and realizing publicly that quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest was never about the flag. Goodell said in a statement the league was “wrong” on handling player protests — it fined players who did — a day after players released a powerful video asking him to say the words.

Popovich told the Times:

“A smart man is running the N.F.L. and he didn’t understand the difference between the flag and what makes the country great — all the people who fought to allow Kaepernick to have the right to kneel for justice,” he says. “The flag is irrelevant. It’s just a symbol that people glom onto for political reasons, just like Cheney back in the Iraq war.”

He continues about Goodell: “He got intimidated when Trump jumped on the kneeling” and “he folded.” Popovich says it is analogous to Republican lawmakers who support Trump out of fear “that they’ll get tweeted out of their office and not get elected the next go-round.” Don’t Tom Cotton and Lindsey Graham have people at home they are embarrassed to look in the eye, he ponders.

Kaepernick has long maintained it was never about the flag, and that has come into broader daylight after controversial comments by Drew Brees. Brees has since apologized twice for equating the protest to the flag and a lack of patriotism.

Popovich calls owners ‘hypocritical’

A handful of NFL owners, including the New England Patriots’ Robert Kraft and Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones, donated millions to Trump’s Inaugural Committee for 2017. Some of these same organizations have said after George Floyd’s homicide by police that they stand with black lives and are committed to making change. They’ve also pledged money to causes, though Jones has been uncharacteristically quiet.

Popovich isn’t on board with that. Via the Times:

“It’s just hypocritical,” he replies. “It’s incongruent. It doesn’t make sense. People aren’t blind. Do you go to your staff and your players and talk about injustices and democracy and how to protest? I don’t get it. I think they put themselves in a position that’s untenable.”

NFL defensive end Michael Bennett said as much earlier this week, saying if an owner supports Trump then his letter about racial equality is “null and void.”

Popovich is well versed in the art of speaking out. In February 2019, he said he believed Kaepernick will be celebrated in time and viewed the same way as Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith and John Carlos.

“(Kaepernick) was very courageous in what he did. He did it for the right reasons. The same story will unwind as time goes on,” Popovich said then. In a way, that’s already started.

He’s also been critical of Trump, calling him a fool recently and late last fall saying NBA commissioner Adam Silver was a better leader than the president.

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich argues for a call against the Denver Nuggets in the first half of an NBA game on Feb. 10, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

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