The social justice protests by NFL players didn’t start as a coordinated effort. They began with one player kneeling during the national anthem, then two, then dozens. It was an individual protest that went viral around the league.
Now, as the NFL Players Coalition tries to figure out what it wants the league to do in response to their protests, it has become even more clear that everyone was never on the same page.
After the NFL offered to contribute nearly $100 million to “causes considered important to African-American communities" in exchange for the players to end protests, Miami Dolphins safety Michael Thomas and San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid withdrew from the Players Coalition, saying they felt “misled” by the decisions leadership has made on behalf of the players.
Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins and former wide receiver Anquan Boldin are considered the leaders of the Players Coalition.
Here’s the joint statement from Thomas and Reid:
“With much thought and consideration, I’ve decided to officially withdraw my involvement in The Players Coalition founded by Malcolm Jenkins and Anquan Boldin.”
“The Players Coalition was supposed to be formed as a group that represents NFL Athletes who have been silently protesting social injustices and racism. However, Malcolm and Anquan can no longer speak on our behalf as we don’t believe the coalition’s beliefs are in our best interests as a whole.”
“We will continue to have dialogue with the league to find equitable solutions but without Malcolm and Anquan as our representatives.”
Reid, who was with the 49ers when former quarterback Colin Kaepernick was on the team, was the first player to join Kaepernick’s kneeling protest.
Reid said he and other players have voiced concerns “numerous times” to Jenkins, expressing a desire to have a larger role in discussions with the NFL. He said neither he nor Thomas was privy to discussions about the NFL’s $100 million offer.
“That was never discussed at any point,” Reid said to ESPN. “I feel like I’ve been misled. I won’t accuse Malcolm of directly lying to me, because I don’t think he’s that type of guy. But I will say he’s misled us. And shoot, if that’s what lying is, then that’s what it is.”
Jenkins denied Reid’s claim that he and Thomas were left in the dark.
“They understood the entire scope of the plan,” Jenkins told ESPN. “The last time we had conversations with Goodell and Troy Vincent, Michael Thomas and Eric Reid were on that call. They understood the proposal.
“For this to now be less about the actual work and more about who wants to be in the forefront or be the leader is disappointing,” Jenkins continued. “It’s especially disappointing for us to hear this in the media and now be put in a position where we have to answer all of these questions. All of these conversations could have been between us as players. It’s a little bit disappointing.”
The money from the NFL would be allocated to the United Negro College Fund (25 percent), the Dream Corps (25 percent) and the remaining 50 percent would go to the Players Coalition itself, which is a 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization that has hired the Hopewell Fund to oversee its efforts.
It’s unknown whether more players share Reid’s and Thomas’ view of the coalition and the NFL’s proposal.
What is clear is that time could be running out for the players to have an opportunity to turn their protests into a tangible outcome. If they don’t take the NFL’s offer, the owners could decide in the offseason to keep all players in the locker room during the national anthem. If the opportunity for visible protest is off the table, so too is the players’ leverage.
(H/T USA Today and ESPN)