A group of NFL players requested that President Donald Trump issue a blanket pardon for nonviolent drug offenders. The request came in response to the president's suggestion that protesting players recommend those they felt had been treated unfairly by the criminal justice system, The Hill reported.
Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, San Francisco 49ers receiver Anquan Boldin, New Orleans Saints tight end Ben Watson, and Seattle Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin co-authored an op-ed in the New York Times, calling nonviolent drug offender incarceration a "systemic problem."
"President Trump could help," they wrote. "He could use his powers, including the clemency power, to make a real dent in the federal prison population."
What are the players' requests?
Trump asked the players to submit some names to be considered for pardons. The players, however, felt that simply pardoning a few individuals wouldn't solve the problem.
"But a handful of pardons will not address the sort of systemic injustice that NFL players have been protesting," the op-ed read. "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 commended Trump for pardoning Alice Johnson, a 63-year-old woman who was serving a life sentence for a nonviolent drug conviction, but asked for a more comprehensive solution. Here's what they want:
● A blanket pardon for nonviolent drug offenders who have already served long sentences. "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."
● The release of any drug offender over the age of 60 whose conviction isn't recent. "There is also a systemic problem in federal prison involving the elderly, who by next year will make up 28 percent of the federal prison population. Releasing these prisoners would pose little to no risk to society."
● 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 nonviolent drug crimes."
This writer's perspective
This public interaction between the president and NFL players represents the first positive and potentially productive result of the ongoing controversy over player protests.
For the first time, instead of bickering about standing versus kneeling, or who is going to the White House, or finger-pointing about who does or doesn't love the country, the two sides have the chance to address a real issue.
Trump and the players have finally been able to reach some common ground. Trump has already expressed a desire to reform the prison system to reduce unnecessary incarceration and lower the recidivism rate, and now the players used this opportunity to bring forward a request that could work toward that same goal.
Regardless of how likely or unlikely it is that the president grants such a broad request from the players, if mature heads prevail in this scenario, this could be the starting point of useful collaboration, civil dialogue, and mutual respect between the president and NFL players who are advocating for social justice issues.