ICYMI: NFL Players Malcolm Jenkins, Michael Bennett Call on Roger Goodell to Support Racial Justice Campaigns

By Sameer Rao Sep 22, 2017

Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins and former Buffalo Bills receiver Anquan Boldin detailed their advocacy against the cash bail system and police violence when they publicly announced the Players Coalition in a video on September 6. A Yahoo! Sports report from Wednesday (September 20) reveals that the coalition’s work began even earlier when its leaders asked National Football League (NFL) commissioner Roger Goodell to support player advocacy.

Yahoo! Sports published a 10-page memo cosigned by Jenkins, Boldin, Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett and Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith. The outlet did not reveal how it obtained the memo, but did report that the players sent it to Goodell and NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent in August. 

The letter references a call with Goodell, thanking him for making player advocacy "an immediate priority." It goes on to detail the Players Coalition’s goals and activities before asking for the league’s concrete support: "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."

To that end, the players suggest various levels of engagement on the national, state and local stages. They include meeting with elected officials, cosigning op-eds in local and national publications, joining efforts with nonprofit organizations fighting criminal justice issues and using teams’ digital platforms to share advocacy messages. 

The memo also requests that the league dedicate a month to activist causes as part of a league-wide initiative to steer attention away from individual players’ protests and toward collective structural reform efforts:

To counter the vast amount of press attention being referred to as the "national anthem protests," versus the large amount of grassroots work many players around the league have invested their time and resources [in], we would like to request a league wide initiative that would include a month dedicated to a campaign initiative and related events. Similarly to what the league already implements for breast cancer awareness, honoring military, etc, we would like November to serve as a month of unity for individual teams to engage and impact the community in their market.

As you stated, each team/market has their own specific issues currently affecting economic and community growth due to mass incarceration, police-related incidents, lack of educational opportunities for poverty-stricken neighborhoods, etc. Through a concerted effort with team and player support with an emphasis on PR, grassroots organizations who are doing the real work could benefit in a big way to improve our communities.

An NFL spokesperson declined comment about the memo to Yahoo! Sports, while the players "either didn’t return requests for comment or declined to speak about it, citing an agreement to keep direct communications with Goodell private."

The report dropped on the same day that the Eagles’ official website published a video of Jenkins and other Eagles players meeting with Philadelphia Police Department commissioner Richard Ross, local reentry nonprofit heads, Goodell and team owner Jeffrey Lurie about criminal justice issues. In the video, both Goodell and Lurie talk about a need to identify justice reform best practices in each city, while the players address a desire to find common ground with stakeholders in cities with NFL teams.

Goodell previously supported Bennett—who alleges that he was violently arrested by two Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) officers in August—by rejecting the LVMPD union’s request to investigate him. That support stands in contrast with what a profile in  The New York Times Magazine described as many NFL team owners’ support for Republican-sponsored policies that discount criminal justice reform measures.

Read the memo in full at Sports.Yahoo.com.