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Eagles among NFL players who send message to Donald Trump

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The players want more than just a few releases

Courier-Post-USA Today Network

A group of NFL players have taken to the New York Times to write an op-ed about the President Donald Trump’s latest offer. Recently Trump spoke with Steve Doocy and asked NFL players to let him know who should be pardoned.

Malcolm Jenkins, Doug Baldwin, Anquan Boldin, and Benjamin Watson wrote for the Times, starting off by commending Trump for his use of clemency power in the case of Alice Johnson. Johnson was serving a life sentence for a nonviolent crime. This singular case helped the quartet highlight their overarching theme of reform for those who have been saddled with life sentences for nonviolent crimes. They also criticized Trump for looking at the issue through a narrow lens and not seeing it as a bigger issue to tackle.

“But a handful of pardons will not address the sort of systemic injustice that N.F.L. players have been protesting. These are problems that our government has created, many of which occur at the local level. If President Trump thinks he can end these injustices if we deliver him a few names, he hasn’t been listening to us.”

The players then pointed it that it’s their duty as Americans to question injustice when they observe them. This has been a point of contention for those who do not support the protests and something Trump alluded to as well. The thought of millionaire athletes pointing out injustices being done to poor and wealthy alike is hard for detractors to reconcile. Still, the players hammered home what is driving their action.

“As Americans, it is our constitutional right to question injustices when they occur, and we see them daily: police brutality, unnecessary incarceration, excessive criminal sentencing, residential segregation and educational inequality…These injustices are so widespread as to seem practically written into our nation’s DNA. We must challenge these norms, investigate the reasons for their pervasiveness and fight with all we have to change them. That is what we, as football players, are trying to do with our activism.”

Getting back to the specifics of their request, the group again pointed out the pardon of Alice Johnson and applied it to many more with situations and sentences similar to hers.

“Of the roughly 185,000 people locked up in federal prisons, about 79,000 are there for drug offenses of some kind — and 13.5 percent of them have sentences of 20 years or more. Imagine how many more Alice Johnsons the president could pardon if he treated the issue like the systemic problem it is, rather than asking professional football players for a few cases.”

They also cited the high rate of elderly people dealing with these sentences and the low 6% approval rate of “compassionate release” applications. The players called for the release of any of those nonviolent offenders over the age of 60, claiming it’s the morally correct action. They continued, asking for further criminal justice reform.

“Apart from using the pardon power, there are policies the president and the attorney general could implement to help. For instance, they could eliminate life without parole for nonviolent offenses. Currently, more than half of those sentenced to die in federal prison are there for nonviolent offenses, and 30 percent of people sentenced to life (or de facto life) are there for a nonviolent drug crimes. Compare that with the state level: Only 2 percent of those sentenced to life (or de facto life) are there for drug offenses.”

Jenkins, Baldwin, Boldin and Watson made it clear that they will not be satisfied with only a few releases. Their goal is much bigger. One that involves not only pardons to large groups of nonviolent drug offenses, but change in the criminal justice system that caused these life sentences to occur. These types of reform have long been a focus for Jenkins, who recently spoke out used signs to display his displeasure with social injustice.

The humans that also play football for a living ended with one final statement on why they started their fight and why they continue to fight.

“President Trump, please note: Our being professional athletes has nothing to do with our commitment to fighting injustice. We are citizens who embrace the values of empathy, integrity and justice, and we will fight for what we believe is right. We weren’t elected to do this. We do it because we love this country, our communities and the people in them. This is our America, our right.

We intend to continue to challenge and encourage all Americans to remember why we are here in this world. We are here to treat one another with the kindness and respect every human being deserves. And we hope our elected officials will use their power to do the same.”

The idea that professional athletes shouldn’t use their platform because of their yearly salary is a troublesome one. Becoming a millionaire should not disqualify you from speaking for those that are less fortunate or are being oppressed, regardless of the issue or how it’s seen through the lens of politics. Some fans ask that athletes stick to sports, but there is no anthem policy for speaking out against injustice. Furthermore, in this case, they are addressing a question that came directly from Trump, who also happens to be a millionaire.

What can’t be questioned anymore is what the players are protesting. They’ve made it crystal clear what they’re seeking. What is unfortunate is that the squabbling between the NFL, NFL players and Trump is far from over. It would be a step in the right direction to see productive conversations between the players and Trump that could lead to injustices being addressed. The ball is now in Trump’s court, but is he listening?