As the owners gather in Orlando, Florida, for their annual meetings, issues related to player activism are on the agenda. They enter divided on how best to address protests during the national anthem. Serious debate is expected this week in front of a potential resolution at the May meetings in Atlanta.
Owners also are set to vote this week on a key part of their pact with the Players Coalition worth millions of dollars. If it passes, each team would create a fund of about $250,000 for community-specific causes in conjunction with the efforts of the national campaign. Per league sources, around $73 million of the original $89 million agreement in October has been approved, and the rest is on the line over the next couple of days.
The Players Coalition demonstrated its growth in numbers and coordination this past week. Over four days in four states, members were involved with advocacy and education work around issues including bail reform, police conduct and juvenile criminal justice. A social justice summit at Harvard Law School capped the week with participation from key criminal justice advocates along with Jenkins, co-founder Anquan Boldin and the New England Patriots' Devin McCourty, among others.
At the event's conclusion, Jenkins spoke with ESPN about the state of the coalition, moving past the protests and what's next:
What is the significance of this week and what you were able to accomplish?
Jenkins: It was a big week for us because we had a lot of guys active in a lot of different areas. We had guys on a tour in Baltimore dealing with policing, police accountability. We had Devin McCourty in Boston [Thursday] lobbying to raise the age [of the juvenile jurisdiction]. And all the feedback is that guys showing up is making a difference in some of those things getting moved and passed. And then we show up here at Harvard to have this summit, talking with experts and people in the field about how we move the needle forward, talking about the justice system, juvenile sentencing, mass incarceration, changing our bail system. All of it, I think, is significant and it’s encouraging because everywhere we go we hear that as long as we continue to show up, we bring eyes and light to these important issues that are not only plaguing our communities but the country.
The owners are going to be voting in Orlando about funding on a team level for the agreement you came into with the league. What's the importance of that?
Jenkins: It’s very significant, something that we hope the league upholds their commitment to because it allows players in every market to engage in their own specific communities. Each team would create a fund for grants that players would be able to issue to causes in their community that deal around police accountability, community-police relations, criminal justice reform broadly as well as economical and educational advancement. It's not only the money that is already committed from a national standpoint, but it’s a way for every team to have that kind of footprint in their market, with players kind of leading that drive. Hopefully they vote yes on that because I think it’s a great opportunity for the league to do something that is unprecedented for the NFL to really kind of carve out its space in making our communities better.
You personally are moving past the protest during the national anthem and other players have as well. The demonstrations helped bring attention to the overall movement. Going forward, how are you going to make sure what you’re doing stays in the social consciousness without the lighting rod issue that goes along with it?
Jenkins: We continue to use our voices. And the other part that the league is committed to is giving us a platform similar to what they’ve done for breast cancer awareness and Salute to Service and all these other causes. There’s kind of a replacement platform, so instead of using the anthem to highlight what we’re doing, we’re able to talk about the issues in a real way that people can digest and kind of move aside from the distractions of whether or not we’re choosing the right gesture or the right time to discuss these types of issues. We anticipate continuing to keep that loud presence and have the focus go more on the work than to us.
What do you think about the fact that [safety] Eric Reid is still a free agent? Do you believe that is tied into his stances and his actions related to social activism?
Jenkins: Absolutely. It would be hard to say that he’s not getting any calls just on talent alone. I think any team that is considering him is going to weigh his political views and the strong stance that he’s taken the last couple years, and that’s unfortunate, but it’s just kind of what it is. So hopefully, teams will look past that and evaluate him as a player, and I think as a player he deserves a spot in this league. But I’d be kidding myself if I said that his stance isn’t playing a role in him not having a call yet.
Do you feel like it hasn’t impacted you like that because you’re under contract and with an organization that’s understanding in that way?
Jenkins: Well, I feel I have more responsibility to continue the conversation. Me having a little bit more security on my team and being in a situation that we are in Philly. ... I think we have the opportunity to get the most done.
I also think we have to recognize that this work shouldn’t stop whether you’re on a team or not. We’ve committed to our communities, to social justice and these issues, not contingent on if we have a job; these are things that we’ve committed to. And so for me, I’ll continue to speak up and do what I need to do. If that at some point runs the risk of not having a job, then so be it. But right now, being in Philadelphia and having Mr. [Jeffrey] Lurie support my efforts and the efforts of my teammates and kind of what we’ve been able to build, I feel like it’s my responsibility to take it as far as I can.
What’s next on the agenda for the Players Coalition?
Jenkins: We continue to build. We’re coming up with our plans for this year. We’re focused on specific cities and specific issues that we can mobilize players and organize guys to get activated with, most around sentencing, bail reform, specifically drawing attention to the district attorney races across the country that can have significant impact in the criminal justice reform. Some of that is just going to continue to organize and equip players with the right information and the right platforms and the right situations to be able to use their leverage. So that’s where we are moving forward.