The NFL's Proposal To End Anthem Protests Gives The League All The Power

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The Players Coalition, the group of about 40 NFL players who have been negotiating with the league on its response to social justice issues raised by the anthem protests, is falling apart. Several prominent members of the coalition backed out yesterday, and the NFL has taken a PR offensive by leaking a proposal to contribute $89 million to various causes, intending to make the players look bad for walking away from the proposal. But the real story appears to be a lot messier, and, as is par for the course for the NFL, really, really cynical.

Jeremy Stahl at Slate has a must-read follow up to yesterday’s ESPN piece, which reported that “on Monday, the league submitted to players the final draft of a proposal that, according to documents reviewed by ESPN, would contribute nearly $100 million to causes considered important to African-American communities.” On Wednesday night, according to ESPN, that proposal, including the names of specific organizations that would receive some of the money, was agreed to in principle—which is far from making it official—by the remaining members of the coalition.


But the Slate story, citing a source close to 49ers safety Eric Reid, one of the players to pull out yesterday, says there were major strings attached to the offer:

A source with direct knowledge of the communications between Reid and other members of the Players Coalition says the 49ers player has major concerns about the deal. Reid is worried that the NFL is trying to co-opt the players’ nascent social justice movement. And counter to what Trotter reported on Wednesday, the source says the 49ers player was specifically asked if he would stop protesting if the league made donations to charity.

“Eric received a message,” the source told Slate. “The comment was: Would you be willing to end the protests if they made a donation?”


It appears that the message, even if it originated with the NFL, was delivered to Reid by Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, one of the leaders of the Players Coalition, along with Anquan Boldin. (ESPN reported as much yesterday.) And, reading the tea leaves, it looks like the players who are leaving the coalition are not happy with Jenkins’s and Boldin’s willingness to consider the NFL’s offer.

In their identical statements yesterday, Reid and Michael Thomas wrote, “Malcolm and Anquan can no longer speak on our behalf as we don’t believe the coalition’s beliefs are in the best interests as a whole.” And Kenny Stills told ESPN that “we’re going to let [Jenkins and Boldin] go on with what they’re doing. We’re just saying that we’re not going to have them speak for us.”


So, there’s infighting among the players, which isn’t surprising given their different and often contrasting aims with what they hope to push the NFL to accomplish. But don’t let that distract from what’s actually in the NFL’s offer.

The $89 million in spending breaks down over seven years, and involves donations of $250,000 per year per owner, with an equal amount contributed by players. That’s chump change, especially considering how that money might be spent.


The rest of the money is to come from the league’s coffers, but, according to Slate, Reid believes

“that the league could simply shuffle around funds that had already been allocated to charity projects, or spend the money on public service announcements that essentially served as advertising for the league itself.”


That’s essentially what the league has done with its previous social causes like domestic violence, breast cancer, and CTE research, where, in each case, the NFL’s first interest appeared to be in running commercials touting how much the NFL cares.

Reid is also concerned about what strings might be attached to the money being spent. Setting aside the protests, which ESPN reports “the NFL hopes this effort will effectively end,” the league has a history of being heavy-handed with its generosity. When the NFL pledged $30 million to concussion research, it demanded final say on what research received the money—and blocked it from going to a researcher who had been critical of the league. The NFL eventually pulled out of its partnership with the NIH with more than half of that $30 million unspent.


As for how the future money will be disbursed, the proposal creates a group of five players, five owners, and two league staffers. Yes, basic math says the NFL carries this voting body 7-5, making it dubious how much say players will actually have in how the money is spent.

So, let’s recap. NFL owners are pledging to spend a relatively paltry amount, not pledging that they won’t just take that money from previous charitable pledges, not promising that they won’t veto players’ preferences on where the money should be spent, setting up a voting body specifically designed to outvote those players, and expecting that this will stop players from protesting during the national anthem. No wonder so many players from the so-called Players Coalition have walked away in disgust.