A new professional football league apparently spearheaded by former Black players was announced Thursday, amid turmoil in the National Football League over its athletes protesting racism by kneeling during the national anthem.
Former NFL running back Ricky Williams broke the news about the Freedom Football League on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.”
Approximately 100 “stakeholders,” including 50 former NFL players, are starting the league. The owners include Terrell Owens, Simeon Rice and Mike Alstott, ESPN reported.
In describing the mission of the league, Williams hinted that it would permit players to protest.
“We’re trying to develop young men. You can’t take away their voice and expect them to develop. … When I grew up watching football, I really wanted to be like Jim Brown, not because of what he did on a field, but because he could take that platform and have a voice. And so, when I got to the NFL, expecting that to be the case, anytime a big social issue came up, we were told, ‘Be quiet. … It’s a distraction.’ And so, really, [we’re] changing the conversation,” he said.
Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick was the first to take a knee during the national anthem in 2016 to protest racism in the criminal justice system. He started a movement at the expense of his professional football career.
It’s not clear how the Freedom Football League will manage that issue. But Williams offered a clue.
“The purpose of this league … is about community and the development of players,” Williams stated. “… In thinking about creating this league, I wanted to create a league that I could have stayed in and been comfortable and really thrived. The NFL started a long time ago, and since then a lot of things have changed. And we want to create a league that’s ready for that change and invite some more of it.”
The new league is slated to have 10 teams that would play in the spring and summer. It wants to attract high-quality players from college, high school and international leagues—as well as NFL defectors.
Funding for the Freedom League would come from private and public sources, which enables fans to become part owners.