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NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would welcome Colin Kaepernick back to league

The 49ers' Colin Kaepernick kneels during the national

The 49ers' Colin Kaepernick kneels during the national anthem before an NFL game against the Seahawks in Seattle on Sept. 25, 2016. Credit: AP/Ted S. Warren

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell previously tap-danced around the issue of a team signing Colin Kaepernick — whose kneeling during the national anthem during the 2016 season created controversy and was part of a ratings and revenue decline — but now says he would welcome the 32-year-old quarterback back to the NFL.

“Well, listen, if he wants to resume his career in the NFL, then obviously it’s gonna take a team to make that decision,” Goodell told Mike Greenberg on ESPN’s “The Return of Sports” special on Monday night. “But I welcome that, support a club making that decision and encourage them to do that.”

On June 5, Goodell said the NFL was “wrong for not listening to players earlier” about their racial injustice concerns, a cause for which Kaepernick knelt during the anthem. He added that the NFL will “encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest,” an indication that the NFL might accept players kneeling.

Even if Kaepernick — who opted out of his contract with the 49ers in 2017 after the team indicated it would release him — didn’t return to the NFL, Goodell said the league would accept his input in improving the NFL’s community outreach.

“If his efforts are not on the field but continuing to work in this space, we welcome him to that table and to help us, guide us, help us make better decisions about the kinds of things that need to be done in the communities,” Goodell said. “We have invited him in before, and we want to make sure that everybody’s welcome at that table and trying to help us deal with some very complex, difficult issues, that have been around for a long time. But I hope we’re at a point now where everybody’s committed to making long-term, sustainable change.”

The NFL arranged a workout for Kaepernick last November and all teams were invited to watch him at the Atlanta Falcons’ training facility. But shortly before the workout, Kaepernick backed out and held his own workout at a high school in Georgia about 60 miles away. Only eight teams, including the Jets, Eagles, Chiefs and 49ers, attended the workout, and he was not signed.

In Kaepernick’s last season with the 49ers in 2016, he started 11 games and went 1-10, although his individual statistics were solid. Kaepernick had 16 touchdown passes, four interceptions and a 90.7 rating. He has not played since.

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