Protests around professional sports have been nothing if not polarizing, especially considering President Donald Trump's persistent war of words with athletes who use the national anthem as a platform for activism, but player demonstrations may have fueled NFL support for legislative change at the federal level.
CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora reported two weeks ago that Roger Goodell has maintained a steady dialogue since this summer with many civic-minded players, including Malcolm Jenkins of the Eagles, Michael Bennett of the Seahawks and Anquan Boldin, who abruptly retired before the season. Goodell and the players have been working on ways that the NFL can assist them in their community endeavors, an effort that began well before the president made remarks critical of NFL players.
And, now, it appears those efforts have grown into formal league action.
ESPN's Jim Trotter reported via Twitter Monday that "the NFL is going to formally endorse criminal justice legislation" that surfaced early in October and has garnered support from several players "lobbying for" reformed sentencing guidelines. NFL Network's Judy Battista later confirmed via league spokesman Joe Lockhart that the NFL would do so.
For the record, the decision to support the Grassley-Durbin bill was approved by the legislative committee -- a committee made up of owners.— Joe Lockhart (@joelockhart) October 16, 2017
The league's endorsement of such legislation, which Politico said on Oct. 4 is "aimed at easing sentences for some non-violent offenders, such as for drug crimes, while beefing up other tough-on-crime laws," represents a victory for peaceful-protest-driven activism, according to former NFL executive Joe Banner.
"[This] is a big win for players on the issues they brought up if they can get past [the] method of protest," Banner tweeted Monday. "Seize the moment."
This is likely only the beginning of formal league efforts spurned by Goodell's talks with players in the effort to turn player protests into action. From La Canfora's:
The NFL had been getting closer to finalizing and announcing some of those plans, sources said, prior to Donald Trump's remarks calling protesting players "sons of b------," and considerable effort in the aftermath has gone to working with players, owners and teams on their response to that diatribe. But the league remains hopeful of getting this initiative, informally referred to as "From Protest to Progress," within the league office, off the ground shortly.
The league is seeking tangible ways to help players channel their concerns over social injustice, racism, police brutality and other societal ills into action at a grassroots level. No just offering financial support but working in tandem, physically, with players as they go out into their cities both in season and in the offseason. Bennett, Boldin and Jenkins all have strong convictions about the need for criminal justice reform, which is one area the league could possibly assist their cause. Those men met with politicians on Capitol Hill about such measures over the summer -- and Goodell has been very receptive to their ideas as they and other players continue regular outreach into their home communities as well as others (Native American reservations, Haiti, etc).
Trotter said in an appearence on "Outside The Lines" that the NFL is also discussing the creation of a PSA campaign regarding social issues and the potential for owners to organize meetings between players and politicians. The league has also "agreed to finance a social activism boot camp at Morehouse College in February," Trotter reported.
Some of the hundreds of NFL players who Chris Long and Boldin, have repeatedly demonstrated not to protest America or its flag but to spark discussions about police brutality and criminal justice reform, even and local law enforcement.s in September did so in rebuke of President Trump's social injustice during the anthem. But others, including Jenkins,
Now, it appears they have gotten the NFL's support in getting some of that reform.
The proposed legislation, per Politico, has a substantial backing from both Democratic and Republican senators but "will still face opposition from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who helped sink the bill when he served in the Senate."