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Two compelling NFL teams will face off in Sunday's Super Bowl, concluding a season that saw TV ratings rebound from several years of decline. But the fallout over Colin Kaepernick’s protests, and the league's response, still lingers. Amna Nawaz talks to Michael Fletcher of ESPN’s The Undefeated about the "troubling racial dynamic" between NFL owners and players and how it affects their fans.
When the New England Patriots first emerged as a Super Bowl winner in this era, it wasn't at all clear that they were a dynasty on the rise. That was nearly 20 years ago, and the Patriots were actually the underdog against what was the then Saint Louis Rams.
This Sunday, the Patriots are going for a sixth championship, and the Rams, who have since moved to Los Angeles, would love to even the score.
But, as Amna Nawaz tells us, the league has still not fully come to terms with the fallout of the Colin Kaepernick story and his protests against police brutality and racial inequality.
There's no doubt it was a big year for the NFL. Ratings were up this season. Teams scored more, as offenses kicked into another gear.
But the reaction to Kaepernick and how the league has responded keeps coming up.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had to address it, and many musicians, including, reportedly, Rihanna, turned down a chance to perform the halftime show, a premier event seen by tens of millions. The band Maroon 5 did agree to perform on Sunday.
And now they're facing a backlash of their own.
Michael Fletcher of ESPN's "The Undefeated" has been writing about all this, and joins me now.
Michael, welcome back to the "NewsHour."
You have written about this in your latest piece. There's two quarterbacks on the field on Sunday. There's a third everyone has been talking about. And that is Colin Kaepernick. The man rarely speaks publicly. He rarely gives interviews, if ever. Why are we still talking about him today?
It's so interesting.
And, as you pointed out, it's been two years since Kaepernick played, but yet he still underlies a lot of the conversation and a lot of the angst, if you will, that surrounds the NFL.
As you point out, it's been kind of good times for the NFL. It broke a streak of ratings declines this year. The games have been exciting. The money continues to flow.
But there's this troubling racial dynamic underlying the league. And I think Kaepernick represents that. The fact that he hasn't been signed, the protests that he ignited by kneeling during the national anthem kind of revealed this kind of racial split among NFL fans.
And that's something that the league is trying to hold together. And so far, so good, but, clearly, there's this — there's a tremor happening.
And, clearly, that racial divide persists, right? We have got a league that is majority players are African-American. Majority of the owners are white. There's still a lot of conversations around that.
And we know Kaepernick has a grievance, right, an official complaint he has filed with the NFL, saying that the owners colluded to keep him unsigned and out of the game.
I want to ask you about something that Goodell actually said earlier this week, because, as we mentioned, he was asked about Kaepernick in what was supposed to be a press conference about the Super Bowl. But here's what he had to say when he was asked about why Kaepernick hasn't been signed.
Our clubs are the ones that make decisions on players that they want to have on their roster. They make that individually. They make that in the best interests of their team.
And that's something that we, as the NFL, take pride in. If a team decides that Colin Kaepernick or any other player can help their team win, that's what they will do.
So, Michael, what do you make of that response from Goodell? And do you think we're ever going to see Kap back on an NFL team?
Well, Roger Goodell has been saying that for the last two years. That's been kind of his stock response. And the league doesn't go further in talking about why Kaepernick is not on a team.
But "The Undefeated," we did a poll recently that sort of looked at this racial divide. I mean, black fans back Kaepernick. White fans don't back Kaepernick. And you sort of have that sort of right down the line.
And you talk about people turning away from the game. More white fans are actually turning away from the game because of the whole Kaepernick protest movement, if you will, than black fans, even though both sides are kind of put off.
So you can understand how team owners are kind of in a bind, in a sense. I mean, they're probably making a business decision, saying that, we don't want to alienate fans by hiring this guy.
And who knows? I mean, as far as Kap ever playing again, I personally doubt it. I don't see a team signing him at this point. I think it will be too much of a kerfuffle for them. He could well win his grievance, and win tens of millions of dollars, but I don't imagine him playing.
And he's had a good — he had a short career, but a good one, made over 40 million bucks. And now he's kind of become almost a global figure, kind of an iconic figure, if you will, of resistance and protest.
So, Michael, I got to ask you.
There is an actual game on Sunday now, right? You have got Tom Brady leading the Patriots.
There's that, yes.
Record ninth Super Bowl for him. You have got first-time Super Bowl quarterback there in Jared Goff on the other side for the Rams.
What's going to happen? What do you — what do you think is going to happen in the game?
You know, as a kid growing up, I loved Joe Namath. I was a Jets fan, so I have this antipathy toward the Patriots.
But I — yes, I can't — you can't bet against them. Belichick is too crafty. I think the Patriots are able to play different styles of football. Offensively, they may be able to control the ball against the Rams and ramp up time of possession. And, if that's the case, I think the Rams lose. Another ring for Brady.
You think experience is going to win the day, huh?
I think so.
Michael Fletcher, a senior writer at ESPN's "The Undefeated," thanks for being here.
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