Four NFL players—Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith, and former Bills wideout Anquan Boldin—sent NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a memo last month asking for the league’s support in player activism, Yahoo reported Wednesday. The letter included a request to designate November as a “month of Unity” for teams to “engage and impact the community in their market,” similar to the league’s breast cancer awareness campaign in October, except this time to raise “awareness to racial inequality and issues surrounding criminal justice reform.”
The memo reportedly came after Goodell spoke to multiple players about social justice issues in August. All four players have spoken out on issues of social justice during their careers, and Bennett and Jenkins have protested during the national anthem this season. The players who wrote the memo also have spoken out following incidents involving themselves or family members. Bennett alleged that he was assaulted and detained at gunpoint by Las Vegas police in August for what he described as, “nothing more than simply being a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time.” In 2015 Boldin’s cousin was killed by a plainclothes police officer in Florida.
The memo detailed options for the NFL to get involved with activism at the federal, state, and community levels, proposed a timeline for NFL engagement, and outlined a number of areas for the league to focus on. That focus includes "prioritizing Criminal Justice Reform and Police/Community Relations Engagement" and, more specifically, "police transparency/accountability, bail reform, criminalization of poverty, mass incarceration (mandatory minimum sentences, juvenile life parole) and Clean Slate Act, which also includes emphasis on diversion of funds towards community based programs, education and training.”
After the Eagles’ season opener, Jenkins, Boldin, and Smith took Goodell and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie around Philadelphia to meet with grassroots organizations and gain a better understanding of social justice efforts in the city. Neither the league nor the players involved have commented on the memo, citing an agreement to keep the conversations private.
The NFL has had a complicated history supporting social causes. Critics of the league have pointed out that only a small portion of the NFL’s breast cancer awareness month campaign revenue is donated to cancer research. In 2013, then–Bears receiver Brandon Marshall chose to wear green cleats in support of Mental Health Awareness week, and the league promptly fined him over $10,000 for a uniform violation. Ceremonies honoring U.S. soldiers and veterans during NFL games were revealed in 2015 to be part of multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns paid for by the Department of Defense and funded by taxpayers.
Embracing social justice platforms would be a departure from the league’s previous campaigns, and the players defined what they hope to see from the NFL going forward.
“For us, support means: bear all or part of the weight of; hold up; give assistance to, especially financially; enable to function or act,” the memo read. “We need support, collaboration and partnerships to achieve our goal of strengthening the community.”