NFL players are tackling major subjects off the field in the off season. Several players pushed for sentencing reform and a focus on fighting mass incarceration in a poignant opinion piece addressed to President Donald Trump for The New York Times and published on Thursday (June 21).
Philadelphia Eagles Safety Malcolm Jenkins, New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin and former NFL wide receiver Anquan Boldin responded to Trump’s request for pardon recommendations earlier this month. Trump pardoned Alice Marie Johnson, 63, a Black woman who was serving a life sentence for a nonviolent drug crime, at the behest of Kim Kardashian-West who met with the president. Johnson, a great-grandmother, was released from prison on June 6 and reunited with her family after more than 20 years behind bars.
The NFL players recognized Johnson’s release, but stressed that pardons are not enough to solve the problem of a deeply broken criminal justice system, under which many people of color are trapped.
“A handful of pardons will not address the sort of systemic injustice that NFL players have been protesting,” they wrote. “These are problems that our government has created, many of which occur at the local level. If President Trump thinks he can end these injustices if we deliver him a few names, he hasn’t been listening to us.”
It was former San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick who inspired several players to participate in National Anthem kneeling protests against police brutality and racism last August. Since then, several players have continued to speak out against injustice. In their NY Times piece and on Twitter, players touched on sentencing reform that would include an end to long sentences for non-violent drug offenders — a key component in combating mass incarceration.
The NFL players’ opinion piece comes as civil rights organizations are fighting for sentencing reform to be included in the Trump-backed First Step Act, a prison reform bill.