NFL players, reform advocates kick off campaign on social justice

What started when NFL players sparked a national discussion on racism and police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem will continue this week as current and former players meet with lawmakers and community officials in major cities across the Northeast.

The week concludes Friday in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins and former NFL wideout Anquan Boldin, among others, will participate in a Harvard University summit that will include panel discussions on criminal justice reform and related issues plaguing communities.

In January, the NFL finalized plans to partner with players on social justice issues, announcing a Let’s Listen Together initiative that will publicize the players’ work on social and racial equality. Team owners earmarked $89 million over a seven-year period for the project.

A league official told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that team owners will discuss the social justice platform at next week’s annual league meetings in Orlando, Florida. The official also told Schefter that no vote on a policy change as it pertains to the national anthem is anticipated.

In the last quarter-century, nobody has put real football, by real football people, on the field in the offseason, co-founder and CEO Charlie Ebersol said Tuesday at the Park Hyatt in Manhattan, as a group that included Hall of Famer Bill Polian and former players Justin Tuck, Jared Allen and Troy Polamalu unveiled the project that’s been more than a year in the making. The second thing was, we believe by integrating players into the actual building and the foundation of the experience, that we’re going to build something meaningful and long term.

The league will begin announcing the cities, stadiums and coaches of the teams in April, with rosters largely made up of players cut from the NFL. Ebersol said they focused on cities and markets with the highest levels of fan engagement, both professionally and collegiately. There will be no owners, just one single entity.

Polian, the former NFL executive, is the co-founder of the AAF. Polamalu, the former Steelers Pro Bowler, will serve as the head of player relations and USC senior associate athletic director J.K. McKay — also the general manager of the XFL’s only championship team — will be the head of football operations.

For years I’ve been talking, in the football community, about the fact that there’s a real need for this, Polian said. As a member of the NFL competition committee for a very long period of time, we often talked about, ‘What if?’ What if we had a blank canvas and could invent the game today, what would we do?

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