HOUSTON — Kenny Stills is glad NFL commissioner Roger Goodell regrets the way he initially reacted when Colin Kaepernick and a handful of other players began kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality years ago.
But Goodell's regrets are a bit late for Stills, a receiver for the Houston Texans who began kneeling for the anthem soon after Kaepernick did in 2016, and has continued to do so since then.
Goodell said recently in a video with former NFL player Emmanuel Acho that he “wished we had listened earlier, Kaep, to what you were kneeling about and what you were trying to bring attention to.”
In the same interview, Goodell said that he’d spoken about the issue “a lot” with Stills, who is one of the NFL’s most active and vocal leaders on issues of police brutality and social justice.
“He can say whatever he wants to say now,” Stills said Monday. “But in a sense, if he would have taken a more stern stance and he would have listened to us at the beginning of this, there would have been so many lives that could have been saved.”
He went on to call Goodell's words a “nice gesture" but wants to see the league do more to promote issues important to the players in the future.
“We’re reactive instead of proactive when it comes a lot of issues in our country and within the league as well," he said. “And so I hope that we can do a better job moving forward of listening to our players and understanding our issues and then doing something about it."
Stills spent much of his off-season involved in activism and has been at the forefront of the movement seeking justice for Breonna Taylor, the Black emergency medical technician in Louisville, who was killed when officers entered her apartment with a no-knock warrant during a drug investigation. The warrant to search her home in March was in connection with a person who did not live there, and no drugs were found inside.
Stills was among 87 people arrested last month after they gathered at the home of Kentucky’s attorney general to demand that the police officers involved in her death be criminally charged.
Stills posts about the case multiple times a day on social media and wore a shirt that read “Breonna Taylors Killers Are Still Police Officers” on Monday.
“It’s been over 155, almost 160 days and there’s been no justice served in this case,” he said. “So, yeah, I went there to bring more attention to this case and we’re hoping that something can happen soon. For the officers to be arrested, fired and prosecuted for what they did to Breonna Taylor.”
Stills, who is entering his eighth NFL season, considered opting out this year to focus more of his time on the cause, but ultimately decided he could make more of an impact as part of the team.
“You think about what’s going on in our country right now, I feel like sports really are a distraction from it,” he said. “There’s other things that are way more important than playing football or playing sports at the moment ... (but) I thought after speaking with people that I was close to and some of my teammates, that I could be more of a benefit to this team and to the movement on the inside trying to be a leader working with my teammates, working with the staff here, working with the league.”
That’s not to say there aren’t times when Stills has trouble focusing on football because of disturbing news that continues to play out in America. The latest example came when he saw the video of Sunday’s police shooting in Wisconsin of a Black man as he leaned into his SUV while his three children sat in the vehicle. The man, Jacob Blake, remained hospitalized on Monday.
“I saw that video this morning around 5:00 a.m. and I didn’t know if I was going to come to work today,” Stills said. “I’ve been upset, crying all the way up until practice and then something happened at practice that had nothing to do with that and I’m on the side, ready to explode and it had nothing to do with what was happening.”
Stills has had to fight through a variety of emotions over the last few months since the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police sparked massive demonstrations across the country and worldwide and led to more candid conversations about race in America.
“(There’s) this almost sense of defeat,” he said. “I’m trying to figure out ways to kind of battle through that and try to be the light or try and be a light within my family or within this locker room and not be defeated and not give up.”
The 28-year-old appreciates that people are beginning to have conversations about the reasons he and others have been kneeling. But he said there’s much more work to do if there is going to be real change.
“Taking a knee, raising a fist, making T-shirts, putting people’s names on our helmets and what have you, that’s not going to bring somebody back to life,” he said. “That’s not going to stop somebody from getting shot. So I’m really focused on the things that I can do outside of just taking a knee like I always have been.”
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Kristie Rieken, The Associated Press