NFL players sent memo to commissioner's office requesting support for activism

By Alex Butler  |  Sept. 22, 2017 at 9:58 AM
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Sept. 22 (UPI) -- Several NFL players wrote a memo to commissioner Roger Goodell in August, asking for league support on social activism.

Yahoo Sports obtained the letter and published it on Wednesday.

The group of players who co-authored the letter include: Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, wide receiver Torrey Smith and former Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin.

The 10-page document is titled: Player Activism for Racial Equality and Criminal Justice Reform.

"As players whom have been advocating for social justice for the past year, we appreciate the opportunity to engage with you, the league, owners, coaches and GMs to make our communities stronger. As we shared with you, the silence following our individual and collective demonstrations around the national anthem to raise awareness to racial inequality and issues surrounding criminal justice reform has been met with inconsistencies in press coverage and perceived lack of support," the letter says.

"To recap our discussion, currently there are more than 40 active players who have participated in our "Players Coalition" to work on criminal justice reform on various levels [some more than others]. Below is a summary of the activities we have conducted to date."

Subsections of the letter summarize activities the players have conducted so far, under the headlines "criminal justice reform" and "police/community relations and community engagement." The group called for November to serve as a "Month of Unity" for "individual teams to engage and impact the community in their market."

The players also requested a call to action.

"To be clear, we are asking for your support," the letter states. "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."

The call to action requested the commissioner, owners, coaches and general managers to participate in a learn-and-listen tour, including a prison tour, meetings with grass-roots organizations, policy makers/non-profit leaders, police, families in the community and former incarcerated people.

A "timeline for execution" reveals the players asked for an "announcement of owners/players support going into opening day."

Two sources told Yahoo Sports that the letter was given to the commissioner after he spoke with players who protested before the regular season started.

After the letter was sent, Goodell and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie accepted Jenkins' invitation to examine Philadelphia's justice system.

The players and Goodell did not comment on the memo and have an agreement to keep their direct talks private, according to the report.

ESPN obtained a response to the memo from the NFL.

"The commissioner is grateful to our players both for sharing their experiences and their work to bring people together in their community," a portion of the response reads. "We look forward to continuing to work with theses players on these important issues."

A league source reiterated to ESPN that the direct conversations with the players are "private."

Boldin was the 2015 Walter Payton Man of the Year award winner. Jenkins and Bennett have participated in several national anthem protests this season. Smith does not kneel for the anthem, but supported former teammate Colin Kaepernick when he began the protests in 2016.

Smith told ESPN he "wasn't comfortable" kneeling for the anthem in Week 1 of last year.

"The following week, I was like 'All right, the conversation is going,'" Smith told ESPN. "I have been in the community, I have been talking about this issue in the community, so it's kind of like, I have been doing things to fight these type of social injustices before, so it doesn't really change anything I have been doing, so I just kind of focused on the change."

Lurie opened up about players protesting the anthem when he talked to reporters on Sept. 7.

"I don't think anybody who is protesting the national anthem, in and of itself, is very respectful," Lurie said. "If that's all their platform is, is to protest the national anthem, then what's the proactive nature of it? But I think we sometimes can misinterpret what those are. I've talked to [S] Malcolm Jenkins about it. He's very involved in our community here. That's my involvement with Malcolm. It's, 'What can you do as a player to be involved in the community?' Whether it's social injustice, whether it's autism - you name it. There are opportunities to really be proactive. We, as a franchise, try to be as proactive as you can be as a sports franchise. We hope we'll get more and more proactive.

Particularly on issues that we think are company-wide, like autism and things like that. I think it's all about respect. It's respect. Anyone who doesn't have respect for the servicemen that support the country loses me. So it's very important to show respect for the flag, for the anthem, but it can be misinterpreted that certain people are not showing respect.

We've got to get to the bottom of what are they trying to accomplish, and are they being proactive in the community, and what are they doing? I think you've got to take a holistic view of it."

Jenkins is doing a season series for the Philadelphia Citizen each week this season. So far he has written three articles about criminal justice. At the end of each post, he compares stats from Philadelphia to the city where his opponents play. The stats include: homicides per 1,000 residents, violent crime per 1,000 residents, marijuana decriminalization, police-involved shootings, people in jail per 100,000 residents, percentage of police of color/percentage of population of color, people incarcerated pre-trial per 100,000 residents and number of juveniles sentenced to life without parole.

Eagles defensive end Chris Long has decided to donate his first six game checks ($375,000) this season for scholarships for students from his hometown of Charlottesville, Va. Long is the brother of Kyle Long, son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Howie Long and a teammate of Jenkins and Smith.

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