Speaking to reporters, Goodell said Kaepernick deserves "our recognition ... and our appreciation" for voicing his concerns about systemic racism in 2016 while playing for the San Francisco 49ers.
"I said clearly back in June we wish we would've listened to players earlier," Goodell added. "... It didn't start last summer. It started over two years ago, and we've been working with the Players Coalition."
In an August appearance on Emmanuel Acho's Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man video series, Goodell expressed his regret for not listening to Kaepernick when he was first speaking out about those issues.
"I wish we had listened earlier, Kaep, to what you were kneeling about and what you were trying to bring attention to," Goodell said, via Sports Illustrated's Nick Selbe. "We had invited him in several times to have the conversation, to have the dialogue. I wish we had the benefit of that; we never did. We would have benefited from that, absolutely."
Early in the summer, in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, many NFL stars appeared in a video demanding the league "condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black people," "admit wrong in silencing our players from peacefully protesting" and say that it believes that "Black Lives Matter."
Goodell responded by admitting the league was wrong for not listening to players and encouraging them to speak out and said: "We, the National Football League, believe Black Lives Matter."
Kaepernick opened the door for NFL players to peacefully protest on the sideline during games. He began kneeling during the national anthem throughout the 2016 season as a way to protest police brutality and the systemic oppression of Black people and people of color.
Since opting out of his contract with the 49ers in March 2017, Kaepernick has gone unsigned by all 32 NFL teams. He had a public workout for multiple teams in November 2019 at an Atlanta-area high school after a private workout organized by the NFL fell through because of several concerns from the Kaepernick camp.