The National Football League has created a social justice platform, Inspire Change, fulfilling a promised part of the league’s effort to calm the waters following last year’s national anthem protests by players.
The NFL announced the initiative Friday, emphasizing its commitment to education, economic development and community and police relations. The league will provide funding to grassroots organizations, including Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and Operation HOPE, and will establish a digital learning curriculum for African-American history in 175 high schools.
The program was announced by the league and the Players Coalition, a group of players that claims to work for social justice, founded by Malcolm Jenkins and Anquan Boldin. But not every NFL baller is behind it.
Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid, Los Angeles Chargers tackle Russell Okung, and New York Giants safety Michael Thomas all withdrew from the group shortly after its founding, claiming they weren’t consulted. An incensed Reid confronted Jenkins during the pre-game coin toss for the Panthers/Philadelphia Eagles game and had to be dragged away by teammates.
The Players Coalition was formed at the height of the national anthem protests last year. Negotiations between the league and the players resulted in an NFL promise to donate $100 million to charities and organizations that support law enforcement relationships with communities, criminal justice reform, and education reform.
“This launch involves new grants, new African-American history education programs in schools, grants with organizations we have not worked with before and who are doing the work on the ground, and PSAs on broadcasts beginning with this weekend’s playoff games,” said Anna Isaacson, the NFL’s senior vice president of social responsibility.
“You have to really take the time to understand the topic, you can’t just dive in. We really took the time to meet with and talk to advocates and community leaders and to decide the most important aspects to focus on under the broad social justice umbrella.”
The NFL donated $8.5 million in 2018, plus an additional $2 million for NFL Foundation grants for clubs, former players and active players. That will increase to $12 million this year, but does not include funds raised by clubs and players as part of a social justice matching funds program run by the individual teams.
The national anthem kneeling that provoked fan, advertiser and sponsor outrage in some quarters has largely gone away this year, to the point where the few remaining players who protest complain that they aren’t getting coverage. Part of the resolution came from TV no longer covering the anthem, while the league took no position on the protests and decided it would not enforce any penalties. That decision came after a summer in which reports of penalties raised player ire.