How the Players Coalition and NFL are making progress together

During a recent Players Coalition-led event in Atlanta, the Southern Center for Human Rights, along with local grassroots organizations, provided an in-depth look at the day-to-day struggles of citizens being impacted by over-incarceration. (Photo courtesy of the Players Coalition)

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The NFL Social Justice Initiative is an example of what happens when players, owners, the league and clubs work together to solve substantive issues and improve our communities. The NFL has several issues that it promotes — Salute to Service, breast cancer awareness, suicide prevention, and the fight against domestic violence and sexual assault, to name a few. The players are behind these issues. They care about them.

That concern and compassion resulted in supporting the Players Coalition, aiming to tackle tough social justice issues such as educational disparities, police and community relations, and criminal justice reform.

The point always was to say there is a problem in America that we as players care passionately about. The Players Coalition, an independent non-profit organization that was co-founded and led by players Malcolm Jenkins and Anquan Boldin, helped NFL leadership see that these issues matter to the NFL. Police brutality and mass incarceration are passionate issues for players because they’ve lived them. The work of the Players Coalition showed the NFL that these are issues in the communities from which its future talent comes.

The financial and social impact of arrest and incarceration on families has been well documented. For example, two in three families with an incarcerated member can’t meet basic needs of housing and food. These issues impact the ability for families to enroll their children in sports, impact young peoples’ ability to stay in school and continue on that football journey. Will you get the next Doug Baldwin or Demario Davis on your field if police brutality and mass incarceration siphon great talent? It’s not only about what affects the talent pool, but also about doing the right thing for our communities.

Recently, I participated in the Players Coalition-led Listen & Learn in Atlanta, Georgia. While it was disheartening to hear current statistics regarding the racial disparities in incarceration (For example … In 2016, the imprisonment rate of Black adults in Georgia was more than three times that of white adults in the state. In the same year, 1 in 34 adult Black men in Georgia was in prison), it was empowering to hear that my fellow colleagues and I could lend our voices and actions to do something about it.

Today’s talented players are saying these issues must be addressed now. And the NFL listened and acted. It is a response that deserves acknowledgment. The NFL committed money and time. The Chicago Bears, for example, are donating a half-million dollars to fund social justice programs for the city’s most vulnerable youth. The Bears are the first team in the NFL to raise the money for the league’s new social justice initiative. The players contributed the initial $250,000 and the Bears’ ownership matched that amount as part of the commitment the NFL made to match any amount players contribute up to $250,000. This is what success looks like, and I challenge all teams to contribute the maximum amount.

Even better is the time commitment. Roger Goodell was in bail hearings from Pennsylvania to New Orleans learning and listening. And his presence alone made an impact. His involvement is helping the narrative change slowly from disrespecting the flag to "If he came to New Orleans, something must be really going on wrong." Yes, there is something going on that’s wrong. And I think what’s happening with the Players Coalition and the NFL is an example of how America can make progress toward making things right.

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