Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

NFL's 'Social Justice' Program Won't Make a Difference Until Players Push Harder

If the NFL really wants to make a difference, it can start by following Colin Kaepernick’s lead.
If the NFL really wants to make a difference, it can start by following Colin Kaepernick’s lead.
Photo: Getty

Throughout the summer, athletes across the sports spectrum have expressed their viewpoints on issues disproportionately harming the Black community.

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As they hold on for dear life in this fight, taking advantage of the moment requires continuing to climb up the ladder.

From supporting education funding to combating police brutality, athletes this summer have flipped on a light switch, exposing many of the country’s structurally racist systems.

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The NFL rolled out its “social justice” initiatives Thursday, in some ways cloning the platform the NBA rolled out a week earlier: Increasing voter registration, offering up stadiums as polling centers, recruiting poll workers.

Before I get into this new development with the NFL, we need to throw out “social justice.” If we want honest dialogue, the coddling vernacular around racism to comfort those in power can’t stand any longer. The language used should be “racial justice.”

As we’ve seen through this COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers’ policy decisions over the last few decades have resulted in certain groups carrying the brunt of the pandemic’s carnage.

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Specifics on the NFL’S platform include employees having time off on Election Day, November 3, to exercise their right to vote. On September 9, the NFL will host a special on NBC where players will talk about the work they’ve done in their communities.

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A big thing that players have been crying out for in the heat of this moment is change. And for the majority of our political leaders, the only message they understand is “how will this impact my political future?”

What would make this moment even more purposeful is if these leagues rolled out a list of demands for elected officials on what they want to happen. Not tying it to a specific party or politicians. Just a list of legislative demands that players would like to see happen.

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...And tie it to a strike.

If athletes want change for their respective communities, they will have to find a way to bend the arc.

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Following an NBA players strike last week, the Celtics’ Jaylen Brown said “it can be done again.”

Do you know the impact athletes would have if they demanded police accountability legislation — such as ending qualified immunity or demanding cities pay reparations to victims of police terrorism — before stepping on a football field or basketball court?

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That would be powerful.

Think about if cities and counties were forced to issue reparations to the families of victims every time an officer commits a heinous crime. Taxpayers, who ultimately pay out these settlements, would be very much in tune with what happens. Constituents across all political ideologies understand the simple terms of “my tax dollars.” City officials would be forced to handle police misconduct better, because their political careers would be at stake.

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Athletes could achieve this through several fronts. They could push their owners to use their connections and wealth to get politicians to act, or they could do what the Milwaukee Bucks did last week and strike, but this time until there is action on these policies.

Power has to be exerted over political structures because we know the arc toward justice does not bend on its own. Laying out “social justice platforms” or painting “End Racism” in the end zone won’t be enough.

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The Milwaukee Bucks expressed disappointment after news broke that the Wisconsin state legislature refused to vote on police reform.

“I think watching what happened [Monday] was disappointing with our legislature gaveling in and gaveling out,” said veteran Kyle Korver.

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History has shown us that leaders within government structures don’t act boldly because it is the right thing to do or because they see people suffering.There has to be political benefit or consequences and professional athletes can mount the necessary opposition.

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