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Photo: @saquon/Twitter

Over the course of 72 hours last week, some of football's brightest stars — with help from a pair of NFL staffers — successfully pressured the league to take a stand against racism and support their right to peacefully protest.

Why it matters: If actions follow words, then Wednesday, Thursday and Friday changed the NFL forever. And if actions don't follow words, a new generation of athletes just proved to the league — and to themselves — that they have the power to demand that they do.

Wednesday
  • Morning: In an interview with Yahoo Finance, Drew Brees says he'll "never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag" when asked about NFL players perhaps kneeling again during the national anthem.
  • Afternoon: Teammates and other athletes publicly criticize Brees for perpetuating the idea that kneeling was about anything other than racism and police brutality.
  • Night: Disappointed with the NFL's initial statement on George Floyd's death and the ensuing protests, Bryndon Minter — a white, 27-year-old NFL video producer — reaches out to Saints WR Michael Thomas about making a video to voice what players were feeling. When Thomas expresses interest, Minter (working from his home in L.A.) and colleague Nick Toney (working from his home in New York) begin writing a script.
"I'm an NFL social employee and am embarrassed by how the league has been silent this week. The NFL hasn't condemned racism. The NFL hasn't said that Black Lives Matter. I want [to] help you put pressure on. And arm you with a video that expresses YOUR voice and what you want from the league. Give me a holler if you're interested in working together, thanks bro!"
— Minter's message to Thomas
Thursday
  • Morning: Brees issues an apology: "I am sorry, and I will do better, and I will be part of the solution. I am your ally." (He later apologizes to teammates in an emotional Zoom meeting.)
  • Later that morning: By the time Minter wakes up, he's already been sent videos from multiple players reciting their lines. After informing his boss of his plans, he's invited to a Zoom call with his superiors, who decide to reckon with the final product rather than retaliate. "I was ready to lose my job," said Minter.
  • Night: The NFL issues a stronger statement that includes the words "Black Lives Matter" for the first time. The series of tweets also highlights the $44 million the league has given to causes that fight systemic racism and pledges an additional $20 million for this year.
  • Later that night: Minter finishes the video and Saquon Barkley posts it online at 9pm ET, followed by Thomas. The video concludes with the players delivering the following message in unison:
"We will not be silenced. We assert our right to peacefully protest. It shouldn't take this long to admit. ... So on behalf of the National Football League, this is what we the players would like to hear you state: "We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systemic oppression of black people. We, the National Football League, admit wrong in silencing our players from peacefully protesting. We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter."
Friday
  • Afternoon: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell holds a town hall meeting, in which numerous black employees — who had already been leading an internal push against the league's initial statement — voice their feelings. Goodell talks about being reminded of the emotions he felt as a kid watching protesters push back against the Vietnam War. "He was very, very emotional," one person in attendance told the Wall Street Journal.
  • Night: The NFL posts a video of Goodell on Twitter, in which he states almost verbatim what the players wanted to hear. Notably absent, however, is any mention of Colin Kaepernick, which draws criticism.
  • Later that night: After President Trump criticizes him for apologizing, Brees fires back, saying that he now realizes "this is not an issue about the American flag. It has never been. We can no longer use the flag to turn people away or distract them from the real issues that face our black communities."

The latest ... President Trump sent the following tweet late Sunday:

  • "Could it be even remotely possible that in Roger Goodell’s rather interesting statement of peace and reconciliation, he was intimating that it would now be O.K. for the players to KNEEL, or not to stand, for the National Anthem, thereby disrespecting our Country & our Flag?"

What's next: "Where the NFL goes from here is a lot like where the country goes from here," writes NBC Sports' Peter King. "Will the push continue? Will the 32 owners ... back their commissioner's words when 15 players on some team choose to kneel during the anthem this year? And make no mistake — that's coming."

Go deeper: Drew Brees apologizes for statements about protesting athletes

Go deeper

Sep 9, 2020 - Sports

Baseball's shrinking minor leagues

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Minor League Baseball (MiLB), whose season was already canceled due to the pandemic, is staring down a historic contraction once its agreement with Major League Baseball (MLB) expires on Sept. 30.

Why it matters: Roughly 42 of the 160 affiliated minor league clubs are set to lose affiliate status by the end of the month, drastically changing the future of not only the affected clubs, but the minor leagues as a whole.

Sep 10, 2020 - Podcasts

ESPN's Mina Kimes on the NFL's new reality

The NFL season kicks off tonight in Kansas City, but a lot has changed since the Chiefs hoisted their trophy in February including new economics, experiences and politics.

Axios Re:Cap digs in with ESPN football analyst Mina Kimes.

Trump pressures Barr to release so-called Durham report

Bill Barr. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

President Trump and his allies are piling extreme pressure on Attorney General Bill Barr to release a report that Trump believes could hurt perceived Obama-era enemies — and view Barr's designation of John Durham as special counsel as a stall tactic, sources familiar with the conversations tell Axios.

Why it matters: Speculation over Barr's fate grew on Tuesday, with just 49 days remaining in Trump's presidency, after Barr gave an interview to the Associated Press in which he said the Justice Department has not uncovered evidence of widespread fraud that could change the election's outcome.