(CNN) -- NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says he wished the league had "listened earlier" to Colin Kaepernick when he began protesting during the National Anthem back in 2016.
Kaepernick has not played in the NFL since he sparked controversy by sitting, then kneeling, during the National Anthem before several games to protest the police shootings of Black men and other social injustices faced by the Black community.
Appearing on Emmanuel Acho's 'Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man,' Goodell was asked how he would apologize to Kaepernick.
"Well the first thing I'd say is I wish we had listened earlier, Kap, to what you were kneeling about and what you were trying to bring attention to," said Goodell.
"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."
'It is not about the flag'
The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback became a free agent in 2017 after no team offered him a contract. That October, he filed a grievance against the league accusing team owners of colluding to keep him from being signed.
He and former teammate Eric Reid, who knelt with Kaepernick, eventually settled their collusion grievances cases against the NFL.
Goodell says he now better understands why players were protesting and is frustrated when others mischaracterize their actions.
"It is not about the flag," said Goodell. "These are not people who are unpatriotic. They're not disloyal. They're not against our military. In fact many of those guys were in the military and they're a military family.
"What they were trying to do is exercise their right to bring attention to something that needs to get fixed. That misrepresentation of who they were and what they were doing was the thing that really gnawed at me."
In June, Goodell and the NFL publicly backed the Black Lives Matter movement and admitted to making mistakes in the past.
"We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black people," he said on a video posted to Twitter.
"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."
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