NFL, players close to commitment that will earmark millions for social justice organizations

The NFL is set to agree to a landmark program, in cooperation with players, that will donate millions to social justice causes – but sadly, it’s not without some drama.

ESPN’s Jim Trotter and Jason Reid reported on Wednesday of a proposed partnership between the NFL and players that will contribute nearly $100 million over several years to national and local groups of importance in African-American communities. Not all of the details are finalized, but on Monday, the league sent a final draft of the proposal to players.

According to documents reviewed by ESPN, the NFL is set to make a financial commitment that far outweighs anything other major American sports leagues have made. The NFL’s offer earmarks at least $89 million over seven years for national and grassroots efforts, beginning with a $5 million allocation from owners the first year, which will grow to $12 million a year from 2021-23.

Philadelphia Eagles’ Chris Long, from left, Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod gesture during the national anthem on Sunday. (AP)
Philadelphia Eagles’ Chris Long, from left, Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod gesture during the national anthem on Sunday. (AP)

Owners will contribute $250,000 annually for local outreach in each team’s community, with the expectation that players will match that amount. Both owners and players can exceed that $500,000 total if they choose, and there are expected to be other fundraising opportunities, like auctioning game-worn jerseys or telethons.

While Trotter and Reid write that there is not a quid pro quo agreement in place, the league’s hope is that the commitment will lead to the end of the peaceful protests of some players during the playing of the national anthem.

The protests have drawn loud disapproval from a segment of fans, including President Donald Trump, who have continually and falsely claimed that the protests are against American military members and the flag. Still other fans are upset because of the treatment of Colin Kaepernick, who has seemingly been blackballed by owners for his silent actions.

Kaepernick began the movement last year, sitting and then kneeling to help bring attention and discussion to causes like extrajudicial killing of citizens by police and other issues of racial and social injustice. Other players followed suit, either kneeling or raising a fist.

But that’s where the drama comes in.

Roughly 40 players formed a group they called the Players Coalition; they have been negotiating with the league office. But San Francisco’s Eric Reid and Miami’s Michael Thomas tweeted statements on Wednesday morning saying they no longer want to be part of the coalition.

“The Players Coalition was supposed to be formed as a group that represents NFL Athletes who have been silently protesting social injustices and racism,” the pair said in the statement, posted on Twitter. “However, Malcolm Jenkins and Anquan (Boldin) can no longer speak on our behalf as we don’t believe the coalition’s beliefs are in our best interests as a whole.”

Reid, who was the first player to kneel with Kaepernick when both were members of the 49ers last year and continues to kneel now, told ESPN he has concerns over how the Players Coalition has operated under Jenkins, a Philadelphia Eagles safety, and Boldin, who retired earlier this year. The pair have become the de facto leaders of the group, and according to Reid, are negotiating with the NFL without consulting other members of the coalition.

“Myself and other protesting players are departing from the Players Coalition because we aren’t satisfied with the structure of the Players Coalition and the communication that’s been happening between Malcolm and the NFL,” Reid told ESPN. “Myself and the aforementioned protesting players have voiced these concerns numerous times to Malcolm, concerning the structure of the organization and how we want to be involved more with the NFL in those communications. It has not transpired.”

With or without Reid and Thomas on board, players are expected to hold a conference call Wednesday night to discuss the owners’ offer. If they accept, owners will vote to finalize the deal at the league meetings in March.

As Trotter and Jason Reid note in their story, getting the league to make such a significant commitment is a victory for players. The money involved represents more than the NFL has ever given to a public cause.

But while Eric Reid and others acknowledge that the NFL is making a significant gesture, they remain bothered by how Jenkins in particular has handled negotiations.

“Malcolm continues to have conversations on his own with the NFL, and the Players Coalition is his organization,” Reid said. “When we agreed to be a part of the Players Coalition, we were under the impression that it would be our organization. We were under the impression that we would all have equal say in that organization.

“But we’ve come to find out that it’s actually Malcolm and Anquan’s organization. Nobody else really has a stake in the organization. Malcolm actually wants us to — he calls it invest; I call it donate — to the company to pay salaries for his staff. But again, we would have no equity in the organization.”

Initially, the NFL was dealing with a larger group of players on conference calls, but over time, commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL vice president Troy Vincent decided it would be easier working with just a couple of players.

Jenkins and Boldin have been pursuing avenues toward criminal justice reform for quite some time, appearing on Capitol Hill and discussing the issue with members of Congress. They emerged as the natural partners for Goodell and Vincent.

National donation money will be split up as such: 25 percent to the United Negro College Fund, 25 percent to Dream Corps and 50 percent to the Players Coalition. The Coalition has filed 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) paperwork to establish it as a non-profit organization, and this week hired The Hopewell Group to help guide and oversee the group.

The coalition wants to focus on criminal justice reform, education reform and improving the relationship between the African-American community and law enforcement. Grants will go to local groups in NFL communities also focused on those aims.

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