How a 'rogue' employee forced NFL, Goodell into new Black Lives Matter stance

The NFL’s public shift on the Black Lives Matter movement, which led to a Friday video from commissioner Roger Goodell condemning racism and admitting wrongdoing, started with an Instagram DM.

“Hey Mike,” it began.

Bryndon Minter wasn’t sure Saints receiver Michael Thomas would even read the message. He knew it could get him fired. He continued anyway.

“Want to help you create content to be heard around the league,” Minter wrote. “I’m a 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 the 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!”

Within 15 minutes, Thomas wrote back. Twenty-four hours later, he and other prominent black NFL players published a powerful video. Within another 24 hours, tens of millions of people watched it – and it had changed the league’s relationship with social injustice for good.

On Friday morning, NFL employees convened via Zoom for a company-wide town hall. Some had, in the preceding days, been “angry” and “exasperated,” says Nick Toney, another social media staffer. At the virtual town hall, brave employees shared emotional stories. “People cried,” Toney says. “People were upset. People had prepared statements. People revealed that they hadn’t slept in days over this. People asked very direct questions.” Colin Kaepernick, sources say, was mentioned multiple times.

Goodell took those questions, then later in the day took to his basement camera.

“We, the NFL, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people,” he said, just as the players had demanded. “We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the NFL, believe Black Lives Matter.”

‘That’s what inspired me to go rogue’

The public shift, in reality, began with employee frustration that dates back to 2016. That’s when Kaepernick first took a knee to protest racial injustice and police brutality. The aftermath, Toney says, was “crazy and scary at times.” The league, in many ways, attempted to suppress protests. Internally, some employees weren’t happy with its response.

Almost four years later, in the wake of George Floyd’s death, the same topics arose again. In deep conversations, social staffers dreamed up their ideal NFL response. While acknowledging it was a “fool’s errand,” they crafted strong, pointed statements — the type they hoped the league would release. Then, last Saturday, they had to hit send on the actual one, which, Minter says, “we felt was empty.”


Roger Goodell through the years

See Gallery

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell answers questions during the Reuters Media Summit in New York November 29, 2006. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid (UNITED STATES)

NFL chief operating officer Roger Goodell, wearing a traditional Japanese robe, welcomes players and fans to an NFL 2005 American Bowl party at the Tokyo Dome Hotel on August 4, 2005. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Roger Goodell, the executive vice-president of the NFL, speaks at a news conference in Mexico City to announce the league’s first regular season game outside of the United States, July 15, 2005. The San Francisco 49ers will play the Arizona Cardinals on October 2 this year at Mexico City’s Azteca stadium. REUTERS/Andrew Winning AW/DY

The new NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (L) shakes hands with retiring commissioner Paul Tagliabue after Goodell was named the league’s new chief executive in Northbrook, Illinois, August 8, 2006. REUTERS/John Gress (UNITED STATES)

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (L) and New England Patriots Chariman and chief executive officer Robert Kraft laugh before the start of a game in Foxboro, Massachusetts, September 24, 2006, while announcing that the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks will play in the first NFL game in China. The game will be played August 8, 2007. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi (UNITED STATES)

Roger Goodell (C), the new Commissioner of the NFL, talks with a group of officials before the start of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, September 7, 2006. REUTERS/ Jason Cohn (UNITED STATES)

First pick by the Detroit Lions and second pick overall in the 2007 NFL Draft, Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson, poses with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in New York April 28, 2007. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton (UNITED STATES)

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell answers questions at a news conference in Tampa, Florida, January 30, 2009. The Pittsburgh Steelers will meet the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL’s Super Bowl XLIII football game on February 1. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES)

Quarterback Matthew Stafford from the University of Georgia stands with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected by the Detroit Lions as the number one overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York, April 25, 2009. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson (UNITED STATES SPORT FOOTBALL)

Roger Goodell, National Football League Commissioner, testifies before the Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce committee on “The NFL StarCaps Case: Are Sports’ Anti-Doping Programs at a Legal Crossroads?” on Capitol Hill in Washington November 3, 2009. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts (UNITED STATES POLITICS SPORT FOOTBALL)

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell walks along the sidelines during the pregame warmup of the NFL’s Super Bowl XLIV football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts in Miami, Florida February 7, 2010. REUTERS/Hans Deryk (UNITED STATES)

NFL Commisioner Roger Goodell (L), U.S. first lady Michelle Obama and former Colts coach Tony Dungy (R) huddle during flag football with children to promote the first lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign to fight childhood obesity in New Orleans, September 8, 2010. REUTERS/Cheryl Gerber (UNITED STATES – Tags: POLITICS SPORT EDUCATION HEALTH)

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell departs after a day of negotiations with players association representatives in Washington March 8, 2011. The two sides are seeking an agreement as the deadline looms for a player lockout. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL EMPLOYMENT BUSINESS)

Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson (R) speaks to the media as National Football League (NFL) Commissioner Roger Goodell listens during a news conference after the NFL owners meeting in College Park in Atlanta, Georgia July 21, 2011. NFL owners voted on Thursday to approve a new collective bargaining agreement with players, paving the way for an end to a lockout that has left America’s most popular sport in limbo. REUTERS/John Amis (UNITED STATES – Tags: EMPLOYMENT BUSINESS SPORT FOOTBALL)

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks at a press conference before the Super Bowl XLVI NFL football game in Indianapolis, Indiana, February 3, 2012. Super Bowl XLVI between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants is set for play on February 5. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Dallas Cowboys Jason Witten (R) holds the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award after it was presented to him during the NFL Honors award show in New Orleans, Louisiana February 2, 2013. From left are Payton’s children, Jarrett and Brittney Payton and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL ENTERTAINMENT)

Eric Reid from Louisiana State University holds his daughter as he stands on stage with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected by the San Francisco 49ers as the 18th overall pick in the 2013 National Football League (NFL) Draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York April 25, 2013. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (R) speaks beside New Jersey Governor Chris Christie during a news conference at the Boys and Girls Club of Newark Clubhouse in Newark, New Jersey January 27, 2014. The event was held to announce the NFL Foundation’s grant to the New York/New Jersey Super Bowl Host Committee’s Snowflake Youth Foundation to fund charitable projects throughout New York and New Jersey. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly (UNITED STATES – Tags: POLITICS SPORT)

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks at a news conference to address domestic violence issues and the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy in New York, September 19, 2014. Goodell said on Friday that rules governing personal conduct will change, signaling a major shift in policy in the wake of the league’s poor handling of domestic abuse cases. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (L) arrives at the Manhattan Federal Courthouse in New York August 31, 2015. New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady and Goodell are due in a Manhattan federal court to discuss litigation over Brady’s four-game suspension. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Oct 31, 2015; London, United Kingdom; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell at the NFL International Series Fan Forum at the Institute of Education. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Apr 28, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Carson Wentz (North Dakota State) with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected by the Philadelphia Eagles as the number one overall pick in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at Auditorium Theatre. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Feb 5, 2016; San Francisco, CA, USA; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell speaks during a press conference at Moscone Center in advance of Super Bowl 50 between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 22, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on the sidelines prior to the game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Green Bay Packers in the 2017 NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports






On Monday, they were still posting highlights, going about business as usual against their will. “We came to a point where we didn’t feel comfortable posting stuff like that,” Minter says. Distress spread in private discussions. Employees expressed concerns in meetings. Those who spoke up got supportive Slack messages from co-workers they didn’t know. “The sentiment was pretty unanimous,” Minter says. “We wanted a simple acknowledgement that we, as a company, condemn racism.”

Instead, they got promises but nothing “actionable.”

“We didn’t feel like our voices were heard,” Minter says. “And that’s what ultimately inspired me to go rogue.”

On Wednesday night, he circumnavigated standard protocol for NFL video producers and reached out directly to Thomas. They had no personal relationship, but Thomas was immediately on board. Thomas entrusted Minter with drafting a script the players could read on camera. Minter went for a walk and called Toney. Toney’s first idea got shot down. Then he realized: For days, we’ve been talking amongst ourselves about what we wished the NFL would say. What if the players told the league to say it?

Minter got goosebumps. He rushed home, and they got to work. They started with “Black Lives Matter” – because, Toney says, “to that point, we weren’t able to say that, as a league.” Toney wrote, Minter refined and rearranged his words, and presented prompts to Thomas. Thomas loved them and reached out to friends around the league. Minter sent his boss a text, saying they needed to talk in the morning. Toney went to sleep. 

The following morning, Minter awoke to videos from three players and promises of more. Ezekiel Elliott had already recorded. The project, he realized, was already accelerating beyond expectations.

Toney awoke to an email from Minter. The subject: “Holy sh*t.”

‘I was ready to lose my job’

Minter disclosed the plot to his boss on Thursday morning. Bosses told their bosses, and news filtered up through the NFL’s hierarchy. Within 30 minutes, Minter says, he was invited to a Zoom call with superiors. “And I was ready to lose my job on that Zoom,” he says.

But by that point, he had videos from five players, and buy-in from many more. Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson were in. Odell Beckham and Saquon Barkley were in. Lamar Jackson, he says, was in as well — but never ended up sending videos.

NFL execs chose to reckon with the final product rather than retaliate. Minter went back into his bunker, with Thomas working tirelessly to feed him roughly 100 clips from more than a dozen stars. Minter edited them into 71 seconds that could change the league for good.

“It’s been 10 days since George Floyd was brutally murdered,” Thomas says off the top.

“How many times do we need to ask you to listen to your players?” Tyrann Mathieu asks.

Their conclusion, 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 systematic 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.”

Players published the video while NFL social media staffers were in a meeting. They saw it, and soon learned the backstory. When they did, many swelled with pride. Dozens retweeted it with a simple message: “I stand with the players.”

‘A turning point’

The message came from the players because it had to. “The players are the league,” Minter says. “Without the players, no one gives a sh*t. Our game is the players, it’s our players’ personalities, it’s our players’ performance, it’s all about them. And if they speak up, they have the power.”

But their message reflected those of NFL employees at all levels. Minter says colleagues from various departments, of various colors, have reached out to him to say: “Thank you so much for voicing that. It encapsulated exactly how I’ve been feeling.”

To see Goodell listen at Friday’s town hall, and then to hear him voice those same words, brought some a sense of relief.

“I’ve heard a lot of people, this week, say that working at the league was tough for them,” Toney says. “Because they needed that leadership. And then to finally receive it … means the world to me.”

He and others acknowledge, of course, that a couple videos are different than actions and change. But they’re hopeful. Minter had a “constructive” conversation with a league executive on Friday. “Based on what I have been told,” he says, “that video armed [them] with a very well-thought-out, simple, unavoidable message that had to be addressed and is making historic things happen.”

Says Toney: “It’s such a huge opportunity to turn the page, and be right, and see the point of view of an entirely new generation of fans — and frankly, an entirely new generation of players.

“It’s clear, at least to me, that they’re trying to get on the right path, both internally and externally. Both with the people who root for the teams on Sunday and with the employees, especially employees of color, who make this league run. Because you can’t talk out of both sides of your mouth. You can’t have a league that’s 70 percent black and have no stance when it comes to this. … So the real lesson here is that there’s a human side to this league that I hope, and I pray, we embrace going forward.

“I think it’s a turning point,” he concludes. “I think it’s a turning point.”

More from Yahoo Sports: