The outbreak of civil unrest initiated by the death of George Floyd has brought about an unusual outpouring from players, coaches and officials in the N.F.L., which has wrestled publicly with issues of race and racism more than other leagues. In some instances, however, longstanding disputes about whether the league takes the issue seriously enough have been rekindled.
For several years, discussions about race in the N.F.L. have largely focused on Colin Kaepernick and the kneeling campaign he began to raise awareness of previous bouts of racial injustice and brutality toward African-American people at the hands of the police. While some black players came to his defense, the quarterback has been without a job in football and reached a settlement with the N.F.L. over his accusation that he had been blackballed.
This time, a broader range of players and team officials has chosen to speak out. Brian Flores, one of the four black or Latino coaches in the league, said in a searing statement that he lost friends in the N.F.L. because of their opposition to Kaepernick, and he urged those who were against his protests to show similar outrage over the killing of Floyd.
“Many people who broadcast their opinions on kneeling or on the hiring of minorities don’t seem to have an opinion on the recent murders of these young black men and women,” Flores said.
In contrast to previous outcries over racial injustice, some white players have added their voices this time on the topic, which has been a third rail in a league where three-quarters of the players are African-American yet almost every owner and top team executive is white. Only a few white players had joined or supported their black teammates when they took a knee during the playing of the national anthem in recent years.
“I don’t understand the society we live in that doesn’t value all human life,” Carson Wentz, the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, wrote Thursday on Twitter. “My prayers go out to every man, woman, and child that has to endure the effects of racism in our society.”
The N.F.L.’s commissioner, Roger Goodell, issued his own statement on Saturday saying “the protesters’ reactions to these incidents reflect the pain, anger and frustration that so many of us feel.”
He added, “There remains an urgent need for action.”
Yet his statement, his detractors noted, did not include any mention of the police or of Kaepernick.
Goodell and other top leadership provoked more debate, not less, in part not only because of the unwillingness of any N.F.L. team to hire Kaepernick, but also because of the league’s poor record in trying to increase the hiring of black coaches, an issue that came up again in recent weeks as the league considered steps to address it.
Eric Reid, the free-agent safety who knelt with Kaepernick when they were on the San Francisco 49ers, mocked the commissioner’s statement as anodyne, saying he looked forward to “Songs of the Season 2.0,” a reference to the league’s songwriting campaign that donated the proceeds from the songs to the N.F.L.’s social justice initiatives.
Reid also criticized his former boss, the 49ers owner Jed York, who said the team would donate $1 million to support the Players Coalition.
“Nobody wants your money, Jed,” Reid wrote. “We want justice. We’ve always wanted justice. Y’all are truly diluted.”
Marcus Stroman, a pitcher for the Mets who is African-American, urged others to fight racism. “If you choose to turn a blind eye towards it … you’re part of the problem that will continue to destroy this nation,” he wrote on Twitter.
In the Bundesliga in Germany — where people rallied outside the U.S. Embassy in Berlin — the soccer players Jadon Sancho and Achraf Hakimi of Borussia Dortmund displayed undershirts that read, “Justice for George Floyd,” after scoring in a game on Sunday.
The owners of the Brooklyn Nets, whose arena, the Barclays Center, has been at the center of protests in New York, vowed to use their platform as a sports team to push back on racial prejudice.
“Today, we stand up and speak up against all forms of racism — overt or subconscious — especially against the Black community,” the team said. “We want to say ‘Enough is Enough.’”
The University of Connecticut women’s basketball team urged a diversity of voices to call out social injustice and police brutality.
“For those who are not black, silence is the biggest betrayal right now,’’ the statement said. “The hardest part is watching friends who are not of color not even question what is happening right now. It’s time for us to start preaching togetherness, justice, and love amongst one another.”
Doc Rivers, the coach of the N.B.A.’s Los Angeles Clippers, recalled racial abuse he had experienced and urged society to have a conversation around race however uncomfortable it might be.
“My father was a 30-year veteran of the Chicago police department, and if he were still with us right now, he’d be hurt and outraged by the senseless acts of racial injustice that continue to plague our country,” Rivers said. “Being black in America is tough. I’ve personally been called more racial slurs than I can count, been pulled over many times because of the color of my skin, and even had my home burned down.”
The outpouring from players and coaches comes as most sports leagues remain shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. So far, players have not spoken in front of television cameras or had to reckon with the reactions of tens of thousands of fans, some of whom jeered players who protested in 2017.
For his part, Kaepernick, the player who started the kneeling campaign, said on Friday that his nonprofit group, Know Your Rights Camp, would provide legal representation to protesters in Minneapolis, whom he called freedom fighters.
“When civility leads to death, revolting is the only logical reaction,” Kaepernick wrote on Twitter. “The cries for peace will rain down, and when they do, they will land on deaf ears, because your violence has brought this resistance. We have the right to fight back!”