Memo: NFL players ask Roger Goodell for support in racial equality campaign

Charles Robinson
NFL columnist

Current and former NFL players campaigning for racial equality and criminal justice reform wrote a lengthy memo to league commissioner Roger Goodell officially seeking overt league support in their effort, including an endorsement for an activism awareness month, Yahoo Sports has learned.

The 10-page memo, obtained by Yahoo Sports, was sent to Goodell and executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent in August, requesting wide-ranging involvement in their movement from the NFL. The memo seeks an investment of time and education, political involvement, finances and other commitments from the league. It also sought to have the NFL endorse the month of November as an activism awareness month, similar to the periods of league calendar dedicated to breast cancer awareness and military recognition.

It was endorsed by four players: Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, former Buffalo Bills wideout Anquan Boldin and Eagles wideout Torrey Smith.

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A league spokesperson declined to comment on the memo or Goodell’s communication with specific NFL players. The four players who co-authored the letter either didn’t return requests for comment or declined to speak about it, citing an agreement to keep direct communications with Goodell private.

Michael Bennett is one of four current and former players to send the memo to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. (Getty)

While Bennett and Jenkins have each taken part in national anthem protests before NFL games, all four players have had strong voices in a growing platform of players speaking out on a variety of social issues. According to two league sources familiar with the letter, the communication came on the heels of Goodell talking directly with several players in August – including some who have protested on game day – in an effort to move player activism into a progressive direction. The source said Bennett, Jenkins, Boldin and Smith replied to that call with their co-authored memo to Goodell, aimed at requesting direct support from the NFL in their efforts.

“To be clear, we are asking for your support,” a portion of the memo reads. “We appreciate your acknowledgement on the call regarding the clear distinction between support and permission. For us, support means: bear all or part of the weight of; hold up; give assistance to, especially financially; enable to function or act. We need support, collaboration and partnerships to achieve our goal of strengthening the community. There are a variety of ways for you to get involved. Similar to the model we have in place for players to get involved, there are three tiers of engagement based on your comfort level. To start, we appreciate your agreement on making this an immediate priority. In your words, from Protest to Progress, we need action.”

[Read the players’ full memo here]

The memo was divided into three major parts: an overview of current player activism; a call for specific efforts and resources from the NFL to aid that activism; and a request for a league-wide initiative dedicating the month of November to activism awareness – similar to the league’s support of National Breast Cancer Awareness month. The memo also included a potential timeline for the execution of wider-ranging NFL support, starting in late August 2018 and punctuated by a Sept. 9 “Announcement of Owners/Players Support going into opening day.” It finished with several pages of an addendum detailing specific aspects of criminal justice reform the players believe are necessary, including police accountability and transparency, bail reform, the criminalization of poverty and other areas.

While it is unknown how Goodell responded, the commissioner and Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie recently attended a “listen and learn” tour in Philadelphia on Sept. 12, organized by Jenkins, Boldin, Smith and attended by teammates Chris Long and Rodney McLeod. The focus of the meeting, which was recently posted on the Eagles’ Facebook page, was to talk with Goodell and Lurie about work the players have been doing in the Philadelphia community to revamp criminal justice reform in the city.

Goodell has also appeared to be more expansive in recent comments regarding some of the issues raised in the August memo. Most specifically, a statement in support of Michael Bennett, who was detained by the Las Vegas Police Department in August in a dispute that’s still under investigation. Bennett accused the Las Vegas police of racially profiling him during the incident.

“Michael Bennett represents the best of the NFL – a leader on his team and in his community,” Goodell said in a statement supporting Bennett after the incident came to light. “Our foremost concern is the welfare of Michael and his family. While we understand the Las Vegas police department will address this later this evening, the issues Michael has been raising deserve serious attention from all of our leaders in every community. We will support Michael and all NFL players in promoting mutual respect between law enforcement and the communities they loyally serve and fair and equal treatment under the law.”

Viewed through the prism of the memo sent to Goodell by Bennett and others in August, that statement could be seen as the commissioner embracing the players’ request for support in highlighting racial inequality and social justice issues.

According to one league source, Goodell has sought to accomplish two things with his player base: foster two-way lines of communication between the league office and the players; and determine how the NFL can become more active and supportive of the players while moving activism efforts in a forward direction. The ultimate goal is to present Goodell as a commissioner who works for the game – not as a commissioner who works only for the league’s owners.

Time will tell whether Goodell’s most recent dialogue with players can accomplish that – or whether the league is ready to answer the call for more overt support of player activism.

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