Four NFL players petitioned Commissioner Roger Goodell last month, asking in a memo that the league support players as they speak out on social issues and calling for the designation of the month of November to activism awareness, just as the league does for other causes.
The 10-page letter, written by active players Michael Bennett, Malcolm Jenkins and Torrey Smith and the retired Anquan Boldin, shows that NFL players are showing no inclination to “stick to sports” in the debate that began in the summer of 2016, when Colin Kaepernick made a statement about police brutality and social injustice by refusing to stand for the national anthem. Kaepernick presently is a free agent unaffiliated with any team. Bennett, the Seattle Seahawks defensive end, has protested during the anthem by remaining seated; Jenkins, the Philadelphia Eagles safety, stands but raises a fist. Smith, the Eagles wide receiver who played with Kaepernick when both were in San Francisco, has not protested but has been vocal in his support.
The four players are seeking support for their campaign for racial equality and criminal justice reform in the memo, sent to Goodell and Troy Vincent, the league’s executive vice president of football operations.
“We appreciate your acknowledgment on the call regarding the clear distinction between support and permission. For us, support means: bear all or part of the weight of; hold up; give assistance to, especially financially; enable to function or act.
“We need support, collaboration and partnerships to achieve our goal of strengthening the community. There are a variety of ways for you to get involved. Similar to the model we have in place for players to get involved, there are three tiers of engagement based on your comfort level. To start, we appreciate your agreement on making this an immediate priority. In your words, from Protest to Progress, we need action.”
League spokesman Brian McCarthy cited Goodell’s support for players who take a social stance and added in an email to The Post that Goodell had met with Jenkins, Smith, Rodney McLeod, Chris Long, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and Philadelphia police representatives to discuss criminal justice reform. Lurie, according to Eagles.com, wanted to see how his players are getting involved with social injustice reform work in the community and to gain perspective and insight on the issues. (PhiladelphiaEagles.com has video of the meeting.) McCarthy wrote:
Commissioner Goodell has been talking with players for some time about social justice issues and how to recognize the progress and the important work of our players in their communities across the country.
Malcolm invited the Commissioner to Philadelphia a couple weeks ago to see and share in what they’ve been doing to impact criminal justice reform. Joined by Mr. Lurie, the Commissioner spent the day along with Malcolm and others meeting with community leaders and representatives of law enforcement.
The Commissioner is grateful to our players both for sharing their experiences and their work to bring people together in their community. We look forward to continuing to work with these players on these important issues.
Just before the season opener, Bennett brought new awareness to the issue when he accused the Las Vegas police of racial profiling and excessive force when he was thrown to the ground and handcuffed, with a gun pointed at him, after the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight. Vegas police denied the accusation, but Goodell stood with Bennett.
“Michael Bennett represents the best of the NFL — a leader on his team and in his community,” Goodell said in a statement released by the league at the time. “Our foremost concern is the welfare of Michael and his family. … the issues Michael has been raising deserve serious attention from all of our leaders in every community. We will support Michael and all NFL players in promoting mutual respect between law enforcement and the communities they loyally serve and fair and equal treatment under the law.”
Last year, the NFL took step toward letting players support their causes by designating Week 13 “My Cause, My Cleats” week and declining to fine players for uniform violations that extend to footwear. For one week, players could wear cleats with a message supporting whatever cause they liked.
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