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In a TODAY exclusive airing Wednesday, Matt Lauer sat down with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss the outrage stemming from possible player protests during the national anthem portion of Sunday night's games.
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Tonight's games coincide with the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and the NFL plans to commemorate the date with military appearances, first responder guests and more. But all eyes are on the players — and the demonstrations that may take place on the field.
Possible protests during tonight's games are expected to further escalate a contentious moment last month when quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem. Kaepernick was not disciplined for his actions. If more demonstrations like his occur tonight, current tensions between many fans, players and officials may transform into full-blown outrage.
In his interview with Lauer, Goodell maintained that the players are encouraged to be respectful — but also noted that their rights, too, should be respected.
"In a league that I think the majority of the players are African American, do you want the league to take a leading role in bringing attention to issues like the one that Colin Kaepernick is bringing attention to?" Lauer began, highlighting charged undertones of the players' actions.
"Well, I think our history is that we do," Goodell responded. "We play a role in society, an important role in society. We understand that."
Lauer then asked Goodell if he felt "proud" of Colin Kaepernick and his protest, to which Goodell answered: "Listen, I support our players speaking out on issues that they think need to be changed in our society. We don't live in a perfect society, Matt. Our players have strong views about things. So I support our players speaking out against that. But that's what the focus should be on, the changes he wants to see in our society."
Additionally, Lauer made a point of asking about whether it'd be particularly "difficult to see the players kneel or sit for the anthem" on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when many Americans will be feeling exceptionally patriotic.
"I don't think so," Goodell answered. "You know, we encourage our players to be respectful. We want them to do this so. But they also have rights. And we have to respect that."
Portions of the interview — which also included a discussion about deflategate, concussions and more — aired this morning on "Sunday TODAY with Willie Geist" and more will air this evening during “Sunday Night Football.” The full interview will air on Wednesday, September 14 on TODAY.