Celebs Who Can't Stand The NFL

There are other professional sports leagues ... then there's the NFL. A television juggernaut that owns an entire day of the week, while the Super Bowl is an unofficial American holiday, the NFL rakes in billions every year, making it the most profitable sports league in the United States.

The NFL's stars are household names who rake in millions of their own with endorsements and answering calls from Hollywood. However, despite the NFL's slick packaging and powerful marketing machine, several cracks have begun to show in their famous shield logo over the years. From the controversial practice of forcing the public to fund their stadiums to their handling of an array of issues, the NFL's reputation has taken brutal hit after brutal hit.

And even as the league's formidable PR team does what it needs to do, some of these issues wouldn't stay buried and people with louder voices that the NFL refused to stay silent. Here are a few celebs who can't stand the NFL and took a stand.

Donald Trump refuses to end his feud with the NFL

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was left unsigned by teams for kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police brutality. Yet four years later, the NFL released a statement in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests all over the country following the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died after having his neck knelt on by a Minneapolis police officer.

"We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people. We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier, and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a video posted to Twitter. "We are listening. I am listening," he added. "And I will be reaching out to players who have raised their voices and others on how we can improve and go forward for a better and more united NFL family."

The anthem has long been a point of contention for Donald Trump, and after the NFL's statement, he ramped up his feud with the league. "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?" the 45th president asked.

Martellus Bennett: 'The NFL is racist'

Following the killing of George Floyd, former New England Patriots star Martellus Bennett criticized the NFL for the racism he saw and experienced while in the league. In a multi-tweet thread, Bennett specifically took issue with the lack of Black coaches and how that's directly tied to systemic racism.

"All these coaches with white daddy syndrome in the league and football period talking down to black players in a way they would never do to a white player know it's wrong then want to turn around and tell em im hard on because I love you like you're my own son as an excuse...," he tweeted. "The nfl is racist. The main reason they don't have black coaches is because of racism not because they aren't 'qualified.' You already know how the white owners who hire coaches feel about black players. It's the same way they feel about black coaches."

He stated that much like America, the NFL was "built on the backs of black athletes" and used the "slave trade as a model" to build the league to where it is today. "We need more black coaches leading black men. And the league [has] stopped many players from experiencing that with blatant racism and prejudice when hiring coaches. You can play for our team but you can't lead our teams," he tweeted.

Eric Reid to the NFL: 'You are the system'

Former San Francisco 49er and Carolina Panther safety Eric Reid — Colin Kaepernick's close friend and one of the first players to kneel during the national anthem alongside him, took aim at the NFL's statement supporting the Black Lives Matter movement in a series of deleted tweets.

He specifically called out the NFL's commitment to donate $20 million to social justice causes. "Where do I start? In your self-reflection, you chose to tell us that you donated .00275% of your 2019 revenue of roughly $16B to the causes you care so deeply for," he wrote (via USA Today). "Yet you have not denounced the police 4 their history of murder nor have you addressed your own oppressive constructs."

Reid then called out the NFL's statement as a ploy to protect their image while ignoring their treatment of Kaepernick and black players in general. "In your self-reflection, you didn't feel the need to reconcile your aforementioned actions," he wrote. "You aren't trying to change the system. You are the system."

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand blasts the NFL over their domestic violence policies

According to a 2014 study, 85 out of the 713 NFL player arrests from 2000-2014 were for domestic violence. How the NFL deals with players arrested for domestic violence became national news after TMZ Sports released a video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his fiancée and dragging her unconscious body out of an elevator. He received a two-game suspension before the video was released to the public — he was then suspended indefinitely. In contrast, the same year the Rice video was released, former Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon was suspended for the entire season after testing positive for marijuana.

The NFL then found themselves in a PR nightmare with many blasting the league for their permissive stance on domestic violence, including Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. "It's outrageous. I think it's disgraceful. I think it was an absolute terrible job by the NFL. I think they did not do the right thing. I think they turned a blind eye," she said on the WNYC's "The Brian Lehrer Show" (via Business Insider).

"I think the NFL should look long and hard at their policies and figure out what they are doing wrong. Because they are not getting it right. And this is systemic. It's domestic violence in the NFL. It's sexual assault on college campuses and in the military," she continued. "This is unacceptable behavior and it should not be allowed by anyone — and certainly not an NFL star."

Rihanna has a longstanding beef with the NFL

In 2019, the NFL offered Rihanna the chance to headline the Super Bowl LIII halftime show. She turned it down. Her reason? Solidarity with Colin Kaepernick. "I couldn't dare do that. For what? Who gains from that? Not my people. I just couldn't be a sellout. I couldn't be an enabler," she told Vogue. "There's things within that organization that I do not agree with at all, and I was not about to go and be of service to them in any way."

So what are some of those other things Rihanna doesn't agree with? Well, less than a week after the NFL announced her and Jay Z's song "Run This Town" would be part of its Thursday Night Football opening segment before the season opener, the brutal Ray Rice video was made public. Since Rihanna was infamously a victim of domestic violence herself at the hands of Chris Brown, CBS decided to pull the song.

"We thought journalistically and from a tone standpoint, we needed to have the appropriate tone and coverage," CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus told Sports Illustrated. "A lot of the production elements we wanted in the show are being eliminated." This decision didn't sit right with Rihanna, who worked hard to no longer be perceived as a victim. "CBS you pulled my song last week, now you wanna slide it back in this Thursday? NO, F**k you! Y'all are sad for penalizing me for this," she tweeted.

Cardi B was happy to 'sacrifice' by declining to perform at the Super Bowl

Cardi B also declined to perform in the Super Bowl LIII halftime show in Atlanta. The Grammy-nominated rapper told The Associated Press that she had "mixed feelings," after her decision but explained that she needed to take a stand in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick (via Billboard).

"My husband, he loves football. His kids play football. It's really hard for him," she said of her husband Offset, the Migos member who was born in Georgia. "He really wants to go to the Super Bowl, but he can't go to the Super Bowl, because he's got to stand for something." She added, "You have to sacrifice that. I got to sacrifice a lot of money to perform. But there's a man who sacrificed his job for us, so we got to stand behind him."

She took some heat for attending NFL-sanctioned Super Bowl parties but justified her appearance there. "I hear people saying like 'Oh, y'all are saying all this stuff about the Super Bowl, but you're doing all these parties,'" she explained. "And it's like, well, if the NFL could benefit off from us, then I'm going to benefit off y'all. Y'all make the most money off our people. Why am I not going to take advantage of y'all and take money from y'all too? Because of y'all, we are getting these parties. OK, thank you."

Evangelist Franklin Graham wants 'moral decency' in Super Bowl halftime shows

Jennifer Lopez and Shakira brought the heat to the Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show on Feb. 2, 2020, making their performance an instant classic in the pantheon of Super Bowl halftime shows. The two Latina powerhouses dazzled fans with a medley of their greatest hits and suggestive dance moves. As expected, some people clutched their pearls at the sexualized nature of the performance. Evangelist Franklin Graham was one of them. 

Graham was so perturbed by Jennifer Lopez and Shakira's performance he took to Facebook to air his concerns. "I don't expect the world to act like the church, but our country has had a sense of moral decency on prime time television in order to protect children," he wrote. "We see that disappearing before our eyes." Won't someone think of the children?

"It was demonstrated tonight in the Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show—with millions of children watching," he continued. "This exhibition was Pepsi showing young girls that sexual exploitation of women is okay. With the exploitation of women on the rise worldwide, instead of lowering the standard, we as a society should be raising it. I'm disappointed in Pepsi and the NFL."

Al Sharpton called the NFL's statement on racism 'an empty apology'

Reverend and MSNBC host Al Sharpton also took aim at the NFL after the statement condemning racism and systemic oppression for not standing by their words. "It's nice to see some people change their mind," Sharpton said while speaking at George Floyd's funeral (via Yahoo! Sports). "The head of the NFL said: 'Yeah, maybe we was wrong. Football players, maybe they did have the right to peacefully protest.' Well, don't apologize. Give Colin Kaepernick a job back."

Sharpton called the NFL's statement "an empty apology" since Colin Kaepernick has yet to be signed. "Take a man's livelihood. Strip a man down of his talents and four years later, when the whole world is marching, all of a sudden you go and do a FaceTime, talk about you sorry?" he continued. "Minimizing the value of our lives. You sorry? Then repay the damage you did to the career you stood down 'cause when Colin took a knee, he took it for the families in this building. And we don't want an apology. We want him repaired."

Adam Schefter criticized the NFL for conducting the draft with 'carnage in the streets'

While other professional sports leagues were completely shutting down their seasons and preseason activities, the NFL went full steam ahead with the 2020 NFL Draft while America was in the initial grip of the COVID-19 epidemic. In a memo league memo obtained by Pro Football Talk, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell threatened disciplinary action for anyone who had anything to say about it.

"The [Management Council Executive Committee] was also clear, and I share the Committee's view, that public discussion of issues relating to the Draft serves no useful purpose and is grounds for disciplinary action," the memo said. According to the publication, Goodell wrote this memo after a few NFL general managers voiced their concerns about proceeding. At this point, ESPN's Adam Schefter — a former host at the NFL Network — had seen enough. "The draft is happening only through the sheer force and determination and lack of foresight from the NFL, frankly," Schefter said during an appearance on SportsCenter (via Yahoo! Sports). "They are determined to put this on while there is carnage in the streets."

Former NFL player Chris Borland blasts the NFL for hiding CTE risks

After the 2012 death of NFL legend Junior Seau from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest at the age of 43, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) made national headlines when Seau's autopsy revealed he suffered from the severe brain disease caused by repetitive head trauma. In a study published by FiveThirtyEight in 2018, out of the 111 brains from deceased NFL players donated to study the effects of head trauma, 110 had CTE.

But instead of calling this a dire health risk to their players and taking the needed steps to protect them, the NFL attempted to hide the truth of repeated concussions (via Scientific American). And when Bennet Omalu, the physician who discovered the disease, published his findings, the NFL tried to intimidate him into silence. "They were trying to blackball him, lock him out, marginalize him," Julian Bailes, a former Pittsburgh Steelers team doctor told GQ. "He was the whistle-blower."

Enter former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland, who shocked the NFL by retiring after his rookie season in 2014 due to CTE concerns. "The costs are high, and the N.F.L. has made a lot of money while passing those costs on to the players, their families, and their communities. We need to stop this from continuing — in football and in other industries — by standing up for science," Borland said in a statement (via The New York Times).