In response to President’s latest challenge, players call for justice reforms In New York Times Op-Ed piece
It’s been almost two years since Colin Kaepernick first sat, then took a knee during the playing of the National Anthem in protest of how African-Americans were still being oppressed in the United States.
This silent, symbolic act, caught on camera before the kickoff of NFL preseason games involving Kaepernick’s team, the San Francisco 49ers, immediately fanned a flame of national debate and intense partisan rhetoric about what its true intention was.
Conservatives have sided with President Trump, attacking what they felt was a callous disrespect for the flag and the military. Liberals dismissed the nationalist argument, choosing to believe it a societal commentary about the prevalence of unjust treatment determined by class and race.
Since then, the conversation has taken many unexpected directions, political and private, point and counterpoint, while Kaepernick’s career has come to a screeching halt, the NFL suddenly viewing the former Super Bowl quarterback as unemployable.
Most recently, Trump’s challenge to NFL players, a group he seems to have enjoyed taunting as being anti-America, has centered on his demand that they provide a list of people they feel have been so exploited by the justice system that they deserve presidential pardons.
Trump apparently came up with this idea after the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles canceled their scheduled visit to the White House. Trump has often accused NFL players of doing nothing substantive to solve problems other than talking endlessly about it.
Last Thursday, Trump got his answer, albeit not one that he probably expected.
Doug Baldwin, Anquan Boldin, Malcolm Jenkins and Ben Watson, leaders of the NFL’s players coalition, authored an op-ed piece for the New York Times and produced a video for distribution on social media, asking Trump to take action by changing policy that may have led to extended sentences for non-violent drug offenders.
While praising the president for commuting the life sentence of Alice Johnson, 63, a drug offender who had already served more than 20 years, they asked for something more permanent.
“A handful of pardons will not address the sort of systemic injustice that N.F.L. players have been protesting,” the letter to the New York Times read. “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.
“As Americans, it is our constitutional right to question injustices when they occur, and we see them daily: police brutality, unnecessary incarceration, excessive criminal sentencing, residential segregation and educational inequality. The United States effectively uses prison to treat addiction, and you could argue it is also our largest mental-health provider. Law enforcement has a responsibility to serve its communities, yet this responsibility has too often not met basic standards of accountability.
“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.”
Earlier this month, Philadelphia’s democratic mayor, Jim Kenney, told CNN that he believed Trump was winning the propaganda battle on behalf of his base with the NFL.
“I think that this is all a stunt,” Kenney said. “And I think that the President is playing the NFL like a fiddle and these players are caught in the middle. He’s making it up as he goes along in an effort to divide this country more than he has already.
“The President wants to ignore the First Amendment and other amendments in the Constitution, and force people to view things and act and speak the way he tells them to. And that’s not what this country is about.”
Perhaps because of this perception, the players ended their letter to Trump by letting him know they had no intention of backing down from their obligation to speak out on social issues.
“We intend to continue to challenge and encourage all Americans to remember why we are here in this world,” wrote the players. “We are here to treat one another with the kindness and respect every human being deserves. And we hope our elected officials will use their power to do the same.”