The defections of Reid and Thomas from the players’ group underscores the fact that no single entity represents the interests of all players in dealings with the league on the issues related to the anthem, protests and activism. It also demonstrates the challenge the league faces as it attempts to move past two seasons marked by protests during the national anthem that have drawn repeated criticism from President Trump and football fans across the country.
“With much thought and consideration, I’ve decided to officially withdraw my involvement in The Players Coalition founded by Malcolm Jenkins and Anquan Boldin,” Reid wrote on Twitter.
“The Players Coalition was supposed to be formed as a group that represents NFL Athletes who have been silently protesting social injustices and racism. However, Malcolm and Anquan can no longer speak on our behalf as we don’t believe the coalition’s beliefs are in our best interests as a whole. We will continue to have dialogue with the league to find equitable solutions but without Malcolm and Anquan as our representatives.”
Thomas posted a virtually identical statement on his Twitter account.
The fracturing of the players’ side comes as the league and players have been attempting to complete an agreement related to activism. The NFL is proposing a contribution of around $90 to $100 million between now and 2023 to causes deemed important by players, particularly in African American communities, a person familiar with the deliberations confirmed. The terms of the league’s proposal were first reported by ESPN, which reported that a final draft of the proposal was delivered to players Monday.
Players met with owners and league officials in October at the NFL offices in New York. The owners then held their regularly scheduled fall meeting, and emerged from it without enacting a rule requiring players to stand during the anthem.
Since then, there has been no publicly acknowledged face-to-face meeting between the league and players on those issues. Those discussions are said to have continued. Separate proposals by the Players Coalition and by Reid for face-to-face meetings failed to lead to such a get-together.
Reid is closely aligned with former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who began the players’ protest movement last season. Kaepernick refused to stand for the anthem prior to games in protest of racial inequality in the United States and the treatment of African Americans by the police. Reid joined Kaepernick in those protests and has continued them this season.
Reid has said he believes that Kaepernick’s original message in the protests has been lost during a 2017 NFL season in which Trump sharply criticized protesting players and the NFL’s response to the protests, sparking a national debate revolving around issues of patriotism and freedom of expression.
Kaepernick has remained unsigned this season after opting out of his contract with the 49ers following last season. He has filed a grievance accusing NFL teams of colluding to keep him out of the league.
Reid’s recent proposal to the league for a meeting in front of a mediator would have included Kaepernick in attendance. Some NFL players, including Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, have said they want to see Kaepernick’s playing status addressed as part of conversations with the league.
The league did not accept that invitation by Reid for a face-to-face meeting, just as it did not accept an invitation made by Jenkins’s group for a meeting to follow up the October meeting in New York.
The NFL Players Association also has been involved in the deliberations.
The league seems to have focused its dealings on a potential agreement for NFL support of players’ activism on Jenkins’s group, perhaps in part because that group seems to have a clear idea about what it believes the next steps should be.
“Some of the issues of injustice that we’ve seen in our communities and how as players we want to use our platforms,” Jenkins said, standing outside the NFL’s offices in Manhattan following the October meeting, when he was asked what was discussed. “We just talked about how the owners could come alongside us and we could collectively, collaboratively work together to actually create some change and some real changes. So those conversations will continue.
“The dialogue will continue. As players we’ll continue to do the work in our communities. We feel like the most American thing to do is to use your platform and influence. And with the stage that we have as NFL players and as a league in general, we feel a real responsibility to our country, to our communities. So we’re working through ways to really have long-lasting, real changes.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and owners said in October they believe that players should stand for the anthem. But they said most owners were not interested at that point in enacting a rule to require it. Instead, they said they were focused on the conversations with the players about league support of the players’ activism.
The owners’ hope, it appears, is that an agreement on activism would lead players to voluntarily stand for the anthem. But owners stressed at the October meeting there was no explicit or implied agreement that league support of players’ activism necessarily would lead all players to stand for the anthem.
Some owners believe that if the players’ protests continue through season’s end, the owners will act during the upcoming offseason to change the league’s anthem policy beginning next season, according to people familiar with the deliberations. The league could revert to its pre-2009 approach of having players remain in the locker room until after the anthem is played.
Trump has continued to attack the league on the issue, and some owners have acknowledged that it has had an effect on the business of the NFL.
Trump wrote Tuesday on Twitter: “At least 24 players kneeling this weekend at NFL stadiums that are now having a very hard time filling up. The American public is fed up with the disrespect the NFL is paying to our Country, our Flag and our National Anthem. Weak and out of control!”