Prominent NFL players want league to dedicate a month to social activism

Four NFL players sent a memo to commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent requesting that the league help in creating an awareness month for racial equality and criminal justice reform, similar to the league-run awareness months for breast cancer and the American military services. The memo, which was obtained by Yahoo! Sports, was sent to Goodell and Vincent by Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith, and retired wide receiver Anquan Boldin. 

"As players whom have been advocating for social justice for the past year, we appreciate the opportunity to engage with you, the league, owners, coaches and GMs to make our communities stronger," the memo reads. "As we shared with you, the silence following our individual and collective demonstrations around the national anthem to raise awareness to racial inequality and issues surrounding criminal justice reform has been met with inconsistencies in press coverage and perceived lack of support."

For that reason, the players requested that the league help raise awareness to those issues, detailing both the efforts they and other players have already taken to do so on their own, as well as a plan for how the league, individual teams, and players can raise awareness in the future. 

"To counter the vast amount of press attention being referred to as the 'national anthem protests' versus the large amount of grass roots work that many players around the league have invested their time and resources, we would like to request a league-wide initiative that would include a month dedicated to a campaign initiative and related events," the memo reads. "Similarly to what the league already implements for breast cancer awareness, honoring military, etc, we would like November to serve as a month of Unity for individual teams to engage and impact the community in their market."

The players also laid out a timeline for when and how to implement this plan during the 2017 season (the memo was sent in August):

– Week of August 21st – Conference Call with Players Coalition Leaders with all Owners/Coaches/GMs who have expressed interest. Agenda to follow with more detailed information regarding involvement

– Week of August 25-Sept 5 – Participation in Listen & Learn Tour

– September 1-2 – Optional Participation in Philadelphia ( Malcolm Jenkins hosted event, meetings and filming session for PSAs)

– Week of September 4 – Commitment from Owners/Coaches/GMs. Participation in Development of Announcement/PR Exclusive

– September 9 – Announcement of Owners/Players Support going into Opening Day

– Week of September 10 – Additional Conference Call with Fall Timeline

According to Yahoo!, the memo was sent after conversations Goodell held with several players "in an effort to move player activism into a progressive direction." Bennett, Jenkins, Smith, and Boldin responded by asking the NFL for direct support in their efforts to raise awareness of racial inequality and the need for criminal justice reform. 

"To be clear, we are asking for your support," the memo reads. "We appreciate your acknowledgement on the call regarding the clear distinction between support and permission. For us, support means: bear all or part of the weight of; hold up; give assistance to, especially financially; enable to function or act. We need support, collaboration and partnerships to achieve our goal of strengthening the community. There are a variety of ways for you to get involved. Similar to the model we have in place for players to get involved, there are three tiers of engagement based on your comfort level.

To start, we appreciate your agreement on making this an immediate priority. In your words, from Protest to Progress, we need action. This would entail you and other interested owners, coaches and GM's participating in a Listen & Learn tour (a one/two-day tour) to gain the same knowledge and understanding of the issues and impact on the community. This would include a prison tour, meetings with grass-roots organizations, policy makers/non-profit leaders, police, families in the community and formerly incarcerated individuals."

To avoid the league or teams having to be "policy experts," the players also offered to provide guidance and talking points for messaging, as well as updates and shared communications on the awareness efforts being undertaken. 

The four players who sent the memo have all been active in raising awareness for these issues already. Bennett and Jenkins are among players that have been participating in national anthem demonstrations. Bennett wrote a book discussing social issues and has been involved with other awareness campaigns, while Jenkins has participated in police ride-alongs and released a video with Boldin (who said he retired to spend more time focusing on humanitarian work) outlining the reasons why players are protesting during the anthem. Smith has been outspoken on Twitter and other social media, and has also raised money through a non-profit organization. 

CBS Sports Writer

Jared Dubin is a New York lawyer and writer. He joined CBSSports.com in 2014 and has since spent far too much of his time watching film and working in spreadsheets. Full Bio

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