CAPITOL HEIGHTS, MD — Last week, after President Donald Trump abruptly disinvited the Philadelphia Eagles from the White House the day before they were to celebrate their 2018 Super Bowl victory, he suggested he would meet with NFL players who were protesting police brutality and racial injustices during the national anthem, and ask them to recommend people to pardon.
On Friday, he complained that no NFL players had taken him up on that offer.
But on Thursday evening at a Players Coalition forum on criminal justice reform with candidates for State Attorney in Prince George’s County, Maryland, retired NFL star and Players Coalition co-founder Anquan Boldin said that he and other players would be willing to engage with Trump on this issue.
But they aren’t just going to hand over a list of names and call it a day.
“We do want to engage on the recent pardons. But I think, for us, just pardoning certain people, I don’t think would be wise,” Boldin told ThinkProgress before the forum at the Oakcrest Community Center.
“I think you attack it from a more strategic standpoint. I think the way we look at it, there’s a lot of people, like [Alice Johnson, who Trump pardoned this month after he met with Kim Kardashian about her case], who should get pardoned. I think for us as NFL players, if we just gave him a list of names, it would kind of reinforce the current system — people who know people, people who have money, usually get the better end of the stick when it comes to our criminal justice system, which we know is broken.”
Boldin, who was a wide receiver for the 2013 Baltimore Ravens team that won the Super Bowl, partnered with Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins in early 2017 to form the Players Coalition, a nonprofit charity and advocacy group that works with people in the sporting community to improve social justice and racial equality throughout the country.
The Coalition has received criticism from some NFL players for being too willing to work with the NFL on a social justice campaign last fall, when it was clear the league’s main priority was to put an end to the protests during the national anthem, not to address the issues being protested. But the group has continued to focus on getting local criminal justice reform legislation passed, and on elevating the visibility and importance of those issues in local elections.
On Thursday night — the first day of early voting in Maryland’s primary elections — Boldin and Carl Davis, a current defensive end for the Ravens who joined the Coalition four months ago, moderated a conversation between State’s Attorney candidates Victor Ramirez and Aisha Braveboy as part of the Coalition’s “Launching Justice: Conversations with District Attorney Candidates” series.
“For us it’s about getting out here, informing the public who is running for DA, what their belief systems are, how it will impact the public’s daily life, and also, allowing the state attorney candidates to communicate directly with the community,” Boldin said.
The questions by Boldin and Davis were direct and thorough, and forced the candidates to be incredibly clear about their plans to fix a discriminatory cash bail system, mass incarceration, the criminalization of poverty, the war on drugs, the lack of accountability for police brutality, and mandatory minimums, among others.
Both candidates repeatedly stressed their commitment to reforms, with Ramirez particularly emphasizing that he would not prosecute low-level offenses, and Braveboy reiterating her commitment to investing in pre-trial services, rehabilitation, and diversion programs. The crowd of more than 50 people in the auditorium seemed impressed with the answers, and excited to get these candidates on-the-record with promises to change the system.
“Our reason for being here is to educate the public,” Boldin said. “A lot of people don’t even know DAs are elected officials.”
The event came amidst a month of drama surrounding NFL players, activism, and politics. A few weeks ago, the NFL adopted a new policy for players to follow during the national anthem — they are allowed to stay in the locker room during the anthem if they so choose, but if they come out onto the field, they have to stand.
While Boldin never took a knee during the national anthem, he expressed an immense amount of frustration with the policy.
“I don’t think anyone agrees with the new anthem policy, stripping away someone’s first amendment rights, I don’t think anyone approves of it. We’ll see where it leads to this year, but I’m pretty sure a lot of people aren’t happy with it,” he said.
Davis, who took a knee during the national anthem during one game last year, agreed.
“As players, also, we don’t want to be looked at as robots running around with helmets on. We’re people, we come from these areas,” he said. “The majority of the NFL players come from rough areas. We want to use our platform to help make a positive change for everyone.”