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ORLANDO, Fla. — The social justice movement that began with NFL players’ on-field protests and endured years of criticism and controversy celebrated an enormous victory on election night in Florida.
Several members of the Players Coalition, a group of athletes dedicated to criminal justice reform and racial equality through lobbying and legislation, have pushed for the restoration of voters’ rights to convicted felons who have completed all terms of their sentences, including probation and restitution, but excludes those who are convicted of murder or sex crimes.
Amendment 4 passed Tuesday night, with more than 60 percent of the popular vote, and will restore the vote to roughly 1.4 million people. As a discrete group that would constitute one of the biggest cities in America. Florida has the highest rate of disenfranchised citizens in the nation.
One of the founders of the coalition is former NFL wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who starred in the Everglades town of Pahokee before going on to Florida State and a long pro career. Boldin helped over the weekend with voter registration in a project called “Muck to the Polls”, a nod to the “Muck City” part of the state where he grew up. The Players Coalition also assisted with transportation to the polls.
“I believe in second chances, and if we want people to be productive citizens, have good jobs, get fair housing, get educated, why not allow them the right to vote?” Boldin said.
“If you really paid attention, you would understand what we are doing. It is not guys just kneeling on the sideline. It’s always been about the issues, supporting those grassroots efforts, from Day One.”
Two weeks ago, Boldin penned a column in the Orlando Sentinel that was co-authored with former NBA coach Stan Van Gundy, former NFL running back Warrick Dunn, and former NBA player Grant Hill. All four are Florida sports luminaries and all four were public in their exhortation for change.
“In Florida, because of one mistake that can be as simple as drug possession, we forever take away someone’s voice at the ballot box, which represents the bedrock of our constitutional system,” the four wrote in the Central Florida newspaper.
“It is hard enough for these returning citizens to get back on their feet, find housing and employment, and reintegrate into their communities,” the column went on. “But when we also take away forever their right to vote, we take away their ability to have their voice heard, elect people who represent their interests, and be part of a democratic society. We need to recognize our returning citizens as full and meaningful contributors and give them the right to vote for people and policies that affect them and shape their communities.”
There were other Players Coalition efforts on Election Day, including Adalius Thomas, Takeo Spikes and Alge Crumpler bringing pizza and water to people in line at the polls in Georgia. In Philadelphia, Super Bowl champions Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Long helped with voter transportation.
Amendment 4 is a significant achievement for a group of athletes that formed in the aftermath of Colin Kaepernick’s protests and splintered to some extent over the many months since. The fissures between the original leaders of the movement, Kaepernick and Eric Reid, and those who worked with the backing of the NFL to usher legislative change, have emerged in plain sight over the past few weeks as disagreements have become public. However the claim of critics that the protesters didn’t know what they were fighting for or didn’t do anything besides kneel during the national anthem have consistently leaked credibility. Instead, the coalition itself has now gained credibility.
“There are often times people will praise me for stepping out, but they don’t actually participate,” Jenkins told Yahoo Sports several weeks ago. “That does me no good. That benefits no one. I’m more interested in getting citizens more involved around the issues and voting, so that we are not the only voice.”
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