Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Why are players unhappy about NFL's pledge to donate nearly $100 million to social justice causes?

Alex Reimer
December 01, 2017 - 11:51 am

Earlier this year, some of the NFL’s most socially outspoken players formed an informal lobbying group with the mission of persuading owners to spend on causes that promote racial equality. The Players Coalition met with members of the league brass in October, shortly after President Donald Trump called protesting players “sons of bitches” for kneeling during the national anthem.

It seemed as if the Players Coalition accomplished its goal this week, when it was reported the NFL will donate at least $89 million to organizations that aim to improve law enforcement relationships with communities, criminal justice reform, and education reform. The money will be distributed over a seven-year period. 

But some of the coalition’s leaders, including 49ers safety Eric Reid, Dolphins safety Michael Thomas and Chargers tackle Russell Okung, are unsatisfied with the deal. They withdrew their support Wednesday, citing several grievances with the way negotiations played out. 

Problems with the deal

Colin Kaepernick’s inclusion: There’s been a disagreement over whether Kaepernick was invited to the October sit-down between owners and players. Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, the head of the roughly 40-player group, says Kaepernick was asked to attend. But Kaepernick’s representatives say otherwise.

Reid contends that Jenkins kicked Kaeperick out of the group, whereas Jenkins says the relationship was always informal.

Secrecy of negotiations: As Reid stated in his Twitter message, he’s unhappy with the apparent lack of dialogue between Jenkins and Anquan Boldin and the rest of the players in the organization. He believes they’ve conferred with the owners without filling in everybody else. 

Jenkins denies those claims, saying Reid and his allies have always been looped in. "They understood the entire scope of the plan,” Jenkins explained, per ESPN. “The last time we had conversations with Goodell and Troy Vincent, Michael Thomas and Eric Reid were on that call. They understood the proposal. What we didn't have was a conversation with players in the coalition based on some of the responses that we got from the league. We then talked about myself contracting Troy Vincent just to give them some updates on some of our feedback, which I did. That call did not have Mike or Eric on it. Everybody kind of agreed to that.”

Kneeling quid pro quo: Reid was reportedly asked if he would cease protesting during the national anthem if the league invested in social justice causes. That has spread suspicion that Jenkins and Boldin sold out the protesting movement for nearly $100 million. 

ESPN’s Jim Trotter and Jason Reid report no quid pro quo has been made. However, they report that league officials hope players will no longer feel the urge to protest with this new agreement underway.

Money doesn’t go far enough: While the $89 million figure is impressive on paper, it will be a relatively nominal cost to teams when spread out over a seven-year span. Plus, the money is apparently coming from funds already allocated to breast cancer awareness and Salute to Service. 

Okung dismissed the proposal outright.

Future: If the players accept the NFL’s offer, the owners would vote to finalize a deal at their meetings in March. Because the March deadline is so far away, Reid says he thinks Jenkins hastily agreed to a deal.

In his comments to ESPN, Reid said he might consider working with Kaepernick instead of the Players Coalition. Reid also plans to keep protesting. "I speak with Colin almost every day," Reid said. "He's getting things set with his nonprofit. I may just work with him."

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