LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – NFL great Terrell Owens on Thursday said the league should apologize to Colin Kaepernick for refusing to support his kneeling protests against racial inequality during the 2016 season.
Kaepernick, who at the time was the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, was the first to take a knee during the pre-game playing of the national anthem to call attention to racial injustice and police brutality.
The gesture gained momentum among players that year but also ignited a firestorm of controversy, especially after U.S. President Donald Trump slammed the protests as unpatriotic.
Kaepernick has been unsigned since that season.
“We’re standing here on behalf of Colin,” Owens told reporters while surrounded by a group of protesters during a march in Los Angeles on Thursday.
“Those players want an apology from the commissioner (Roger Goodell) on behalf of the NFL and himself, because he was part of taking that direct order from the president of the United States not to re-sign this guy,” he said.
“That in itself is systemic racism … it was a direct order from the president of the United States to those white owners not to re-sign Colin Kaepernick, who is a black quarterback.”
The NFL did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment outside of regular business hours.
The Hall of Famer wide receiver, who retired after the 2010 season, said he would also love to see Kaepernick back on the field.
“This guy was stripped and robbed of his livelihood at the direct order of the president of the United States,” he said.
In addition to Trump calling Kaepernick’s protest unpatriotic, in 2017 Vice President Mike Pence walked out of an NFL game when some of the players knelt on the sidelines.
In a video posted online last week, Goodell said the NFL was wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier but did not mention Kaepernick by name.
The issue has returned to the fore in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis who died after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
On Thursday, the NFL announced a 10-year, $250 million fund to combat systemic racism.
(Reporting by Mike Blake; Writing by Rory Carroll; Editing by Christopher Cushing)