NFL Players Coalition

How the Players Coalition is Using the NFL’s Platform to Effect Change

February 28, 2019

If your car breaks down on I-75, Florida Highway Patrol recommends pulling over to the side of the road and calling for assistance. That’s the protocol that Corey Jones, a black 31-year-old drummer, followed on a late October night in 2015 when his vehicle broke down in Palm Beach. As he was waiting for roadside assistance, a plainclothes officer in an unmarked van stopped in front of him, got out of vehicle and approached Jones with his gun unholstered and aimed, according to the FBI reconstruction. Jones, shot three time in the chest, was pronounced dead at the hospital.

For many Americans, this news is all too familiar—another instance of policing that leaves black bodies in its wake. For Jones’ cousin, longtime NFL player Anquan Boldin, the news made the headlines he’d been following—from Black Lives Matter protests to the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville—all the more real. “I couldn’t understand for the life of me how somebody can break down on the side of the road and that be a death sentence for them,” Boldin told NBCBLK.

In the three years since, Boldin has worked alongside his family to try and bring the officer to justice. Boldin has also brought justice reform to the fore more broadly, by finding like-minded players who demand reform and co-founding the NFL Players Coalition in 2017. The Coalition aims to support sweeping social justice reforms including juvenile and criminal justice and addressing racial inequality and access to opportunity.

The Coalition aims to support sweeping social justice reforms including juvenile and criminal justice and addressing racial inequality and access to opportunity.

To the athletes in the NFL Players Coalition, such reforms are more than platforms to amplify using their celebrity. The reforms that players push for—juvenile justice reform, pathways to success for young adults and racial equality—all impact the communities that most grew up in, and where many still live.

Philadelphia Eagles safety and Players Coalition co-founder Malcolm Jenkins decided to publicly advocate for reform after his brother was charged with a felony for possessing a small amount of marijuana. Jenkins supported Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate Act, which would seal the criminal records of those charged with misdemeanors if they stayed clean for the following 10 years. The legislation, the first of its kind in the U.S., went into effect in the state last December.

This month, following a seven-year, $89 million commitment from the NFL, the Players Coalition announced over $2 million in grants to a variety of nonprofits that address youth issues, justice reform and racial inequity issues.

Players such as New England Patriot players and twin brothers Devin and Jason McCourty took an active role in reaching out, working with, and promoting these organizations. “In the past year, we’ve been shocked to see how some of our youth, especially youth of color, are being thrown into our juvenile and criminal court systems,” they tweeted. The McCourty twins have championed the National Juvenile Defender Center, a juvenile justice nonprofit that promotes justice for all children by providing supports to juvenile and public defenders, as well as others in the justice system.

As states continue to reform their juvenile justice programs, getting defenders and lawyers up to speed on the changing language and practices can help youth who are often ill-equipped to deal with the court’s complexities.

As juvenile justice continues to reform state-by-state, getting defenders and lawyers up to speed on the changing language and praxis can help youth who are often ill-equipped to deal with the court’s complexities.

Year Up is another youth-centered organization that was awarded a grant by the Players Coalition. Year Up helps connect young adults who don’t have access to financial or educational support to career paths by giving them the education, support and connecting them with internships all around the country. Four months after a successful internship and graduation from the Year Up program, 90 percent of young people find meaningful employment or access to post-secondary education.

“We want to help close the opportunity divide,” said Carolina Panthers wide receiver Torrey Smith. “There are motivated youth who simply need a leg up.”

In the past few years, the NFL has had to reckon with its conservative culture and a long history of racism, with its lukewarm response to the #TakeAKnee movement and the ongoing controversy surrounding the District of Columbia team’s name. The NFL player base is nearly 70 percent black while there are currently only two examples of teams with owners who are people of color, and no black owners. After the #TakeAKnee controversy got everyone from President Trump to musician Cardi B weighing in, the NFL’s financial commitment to social justice lets players use their platforms and voices for causes they care about.

In that sense, the NFL Players Coalition is almost tangential to the league that supports it. Instead, it’s a band of players who have recognized or experienced injustice who will now be able to use the power of the NFL brand to effect change in many communities.

The NFL’s long-term financial commitment to social justice may grant agency back to the players to use their platforms and voices for causes they care about.

“There’s a lot of people who try to deny what’s really going on in our society,” Boldin said in a radio interview on NPR. “And I think if I had my way, everybody would see things the way that I see it and that’s to see that there is a specific group of people in our country that’s not treated fairly.” The officer charged in Corey Jones’ killing begins trial this week.

 

https://sparkaction.org/sites/default/files/sjstoneheadshot_0.jpgJamal Stone is SparkAction’s digital engagement associate. With three years of experience in the startup world, Jamal has done a bit of everything, from PR and scripts, to grant writing and features. His writing has appeared in outlets such as Genius, Milk.xyz, and Broad Street Magazine, with a strong focus on how social justice intersects with art. More about Jamal.