President Trump recently suggested that NFL players give him a list of people they believe were wronged by the justice system. If Trump agrees, he said earlier this month, he will “pardon them or at least let them out.” How did NFL owners respond They didn’t.
That the league and its owners allowed this to happen without their comment is complicit racism.
Demographics are important here. According to a report from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), the NFL’s players are nearly 70 percent Black. In sharp contrast, quarterbacks are only 19 percent Black. Head coaches are only 21.9 percent Black. There is not a single Black owner of a team.
In an op-ed for the New York Times, Doug Baldwin, wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks; Anquan Boldin, a former NFL wide receiver; Malcolm Jenkins, safety for the Philadelphia Eagles; and Benjamin Watson, tight end for the New Orleans Saints, responded to Trump’s ludicrous suggestion.
There are 82,000 people in federal prisons for drug charges, and 200,000 in state prisons, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. According to the NFL players’ article, 13.5 percent of those in federal prison are sentenced to two decades or more behind bars. For Trump to suggest that the players start ticking off names of people who should be let out is not only absurd but an impossible task.
Not only that, the offer completely misses the mark. The men, also all members of the Players Coalition, write: “These are problems that our government has created, many of which occur at the local level. If President Trump thinks he can end these injustices if we deliver him a few names, he hasn’t been listening to us.”
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Apparently no discussion on how to improve the 70 percent Black player/20 percent Black coach/0 percent Black owner plantation problem.
The men cite police brutality against Black men, racism embedded deep in the criminal justice system, segregation and disparities in education as issues that need to be addressed:
“These injustices are so widespread as to seem practically written into our nation’s DNA. We must challenge these norms, investigate the reasons for their pervasiveness and fight with all we have to change them. That is what we, as football players, are trying to do with our activism.”
Taking a few specific wrongs and making them right does nothing to correct the root of these problems.
The players applaud the president for granting clemency to 63-year-old Alice Johnson, who was given a life sentence for a first-time nonviolent drug offense. But the problem is that she received such an unjust punishment in the first place.
“The president could stop that from happening by issuing a blanket pardon for people in that situation who have already served long sentences,” the men note.
(Notably, the president only granted clemency to Johnson, a grandmother who spent more than two decades in prison, after a public plea from Kim Kardashian West making the decision seem more like a photo op than the start of broader change.)
According to the Sentencing Project, 1 in 3 Black men born in 2001 will end up in prison at some point in their lives compared to 1 in 17 white men. Black men are more likely to be arrested in the first place, convicted and serve longer prison terms. And of those in prison, 1 in 9 are serving a life sentence with about a third not eligible for parole.
Overall, people of color make up 67 percent of the incarcerated population but just 37 percent of the population overall.
The disparities are hard to ignore but apparently not for Trump and the NFL owners.
However, the men stated they unlike the NFL’s leadership will not be complicit in their ongoing fight for social justice.
“President Trump, please note: Our being professional athletes has nothing to do with our commitment to fighting injustice. We are citizens who embrace the values of empathy, integrity and justice, and we will fight for what we believe is right. We weren’t elected to do this. We do it because we love this country, our communities and the people in them. This is our America, our right.”
Two years after former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee, some people still don’t get the point. One of those people currently resides in the White House, and others are in charge of Kaepernick’s entire platform.