The NFL’s Plan To Donate $89 Million In Hopes Of Ending Anthem Protests Is Causing A Player Rift

The announcement has caused resignations from the Players Coalition.

Photo by Keith Johnston/Pixabay.

Eyebrows raised this week when the NFL agreed to spend $89 million to help promote and support a slew of largely left-leaning political causes, a drive that seemed to receive a stamp of approval from notoriously apolitical commissioner Roger Goodell.

Rather than marvel at the NFL’s commitment to social justice, many wondered what pound of flesh the NFL would extract in return for its generosity.

As ESPN reported, the imminent agreement led to a schism in the Players Coalition, a group of 40 NFL athletes who had been seeking a greater financial commitment from the league to support their activist efforts, with a focus on criminal justice reforms.

San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid and Miami Dolphins safety Michael Thomas formally announced that they had decided to leave the Coalition, claiming that they’d been shut out of the negotiating process by the group’s founders, Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins and retired wide receiver Anquan Boldin. Los Angeles Chargers offensive tackle Russell Okung also announced he would withdraw from the coalition.

Despite the high-profile departures, ESPN reported in a follow-up article that the NFL had signed off on the proposal which would earmark $89 million to “address social justice issues” and be paid out over the next seven years. The current plan, though, implies without ever explicitly spelling it out that by agreeing to accept the funds, players will stop protesting police brutality and systemic racism during the national anthem.


“The NFL hopes this effort will effectively end the peaceful yet controversial movement that former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started in 2016, when he refused to stand for the anthem.”

At Slate, Jeremy Stahl was told that that the “wink and a nod” expectation was the reason for the rift between Reid, Thomas, and Jenkins and the Coalition:

“A source with direct knowledge of the communications between Reid and other members of the Players Coalition says the 49ers player has major concerns about the deal. Reid is worried that the NFL is trying to co-opt the players’ nascent social justice movement. And counter to what Trotter reported on Wednesday, the source says the 49ers player was specifically asked if he would stop protesting if the league made donations to charity.

‘Eric received a message,’ the source told Slate. ‘The comment was: Would you be willing to end the protests if they made a donation?’”

Slate also reported that the $89 million may not represent an actual increase in institutional giving. Instead, the NFL would rob Peter to pay Paul, using previously earmarked charitable funds or devoting money towards commercials and other branding exercises intended to paint the NFL in a positive light.

Even if they do chip in more, it’s a pittance for a league that hauled in $13 billion in revenue last season.

As Deadspin noted, there is ample precedent for this sort of behavior by the league. Previous NFL efforts to combat domestic violence, fund research into breast cancer, and explore the link between playing football and chronic cognitive disorders devolved into little more than high-profile PR efforts wherein “the NFL’s first interest appeared to be in running commercials touting how much the NFL cares.”

In a Thursday interview with Slate, Reid said that minimizing the total expenditure was a way for Goodell —whose contract is up for extension and facing a mutiny by shadow commissioner and NFL power broker, Jerry Jones — to sell the plan.

“[NFL Commissioner] Roger Goodell is trying to make this as easy for the owners to agree to as possible so that — again, their goal is to end the protests,” said Reid. “He’s trying to make it as easy possible to do that for the owners. He’s going to present them with a proposal saying, Look you really don’t have to do anything. We’re just going to shift this money from this area and just move it here” (emphasis in the original).

Then there’s the question of who controls the funds. Currently, half of the money will be disbursed to the United Negro College Fund and the Dream Corps, with the remaining 50% to the Players Coalition.

But in the future, a 12-person board will decide which organizations will be on the receiving end of the NFL’s largesse, and that board will be staffed with five owners (or owner representatives), five players, and two NFL staffers — meaning that the NFL has the votes to control the funds and the Players Coalition can’t stop them.

On Thursday, reports surfaced saying Jenkins planned to stop taking a knee. No need to wonder why.

Julian Meehan

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