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NFL players, owners optimistic following formation of committee on social justice

Jets linebacker Demario Davis speaks with the media

Jets linebacker Demario Davis speaks with the media as players reported to training camp at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center in Florham Park, New Jersey, on Friday, July 28, 2017. Credit: James Escher

Members of an NFL players coalition, owners and commissioner Roger Goodell expressed optimism Tuesday that efforts to engage in criminal justice reform and raise awareness about social, economic and educational issues were headed in a positive direction and would eventually have a major impact.

“We’re dedicated to making a difference in our communities,” former NFL receiver Anquan Boldin, a leader of the players coalition that has met extensively in recent months with owners, police and criminal justice experts, said on a conference call Tuesday afternoon. “We’re dedicated to educating the public, how there are different biases when it comes to our criminal justice system. We’re excited about the partnership [with NFL owners] and we’ll continue to do the work that we set out to do.”

The players’ coalition is an outgrowth of protests during the national anthem that have occurred over the past two seasons. While many fans and some owners considered the protests, which have largely gone away, a negative impact on the league, Goodell and other owners have worked with the players to listen to their issues and try to come up with solutions to address their societal concerns.

“The players are looking for alignment with the owners, and for the owners working shoulder to shoulder with them,” said Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who leads a committee of owners working with the players’ coalition. “These issues of criminal justice reform, police and community relationship, advancement of economic and educational issues are issues that have existed for many years and will require a lot of work and sustainability. We’re clearly not at the end of the fourth quarter. This is going to take sustain effort, commitment and work.”

Players said they were encouraged by the owners’ willingness to engage with them in finding ways to help disaffected communities. The league recently announced it would contribute nearly $100 million to promote social justice causes.

“It was interesting to see our owner, Chris Johnson, reaching out to us as player and see how we could use our team and this platform to do something great,” said Jets linebacker Demario Davis, also a member of the players’ coalition. Davis said Johnson attended meetings with public defenders in the Bronx along with other Jets’ players. “It was amazing that he was there with us the whole time, stayed four or five hours. Coming out of that, we were able to see what we could do going forward.”

Davis said he and other Jets’ players will meet soon with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to discuss criminal justice reforms currently being considered in the legislature.

“We’ve learned it’s a broken system when you have 70 percent of the people in jail that haven’t even been convicted, mainly due to the high price of bail, lack of discovery provided to inmates and no right to have speedy trials,” Davis said.

“We have a powerful voice,” Eagles defensive end Chris Long said. “When you think about our cash bail system and you watch that kind of arbitrary process, that makes people’s lives miserable who are often innocent.”

Goodell, who said earlier in the day at an economic forum that the protests during the anthem ultimately raised awareness of social justice issues, vowed to continue addressing the players’ concerns.

“This is just the beginning,” he said. “We’re just getting started with this effort.”

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