The NFL pledged Thursday to contribute $250 million over 10 years to programs that address racial injustice, bolstering the league’s social justice initiatives first established in cooperation with a group of players amid the national controversy in late 2017 over players’ protests during the national anthem.
The announcement came six days after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a video released last Friday evening that the league was wrong not to listen previously to its players and now will encourage their peaceful protests.
“The NFL is growing our social justice efforts through a 10-year total $250 million fund to combat systemic racism and support the battle against the ongoing and historic injustices faced by African Americans,” the league said in a written statement. “The NFL and our clubs will continue to work collaboratively with NFL players to support programs to address criminal justice reform, police reforms, and economic and educational advancement. In addition to the financial commitment, we will continue to leverage the NFL Network and all of our media properties to place an increased emphasis on raising awareness and promoting education of social justice issues to our fans and help foster unity.”
The league would be willing to work with Colin Kaepernick to determine how to use the funds from its latest commitment, according to a person familiar with the NFL’s planning.
Owners of several NFL teams expressed support Thursday for the latest efforts by Goodell and the league, which come amid the national unrest and protests that have followed the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.
“As someone who has personally lived through episodes of racism and injustice, and can unfortunately relate to what the majority of NFL players encounter on a daily basis, I can say with complete conviction that we now have a real effort at the NFL to bring real and overdue change,” Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan said in a written statement released by the league. “Results won’t come automatically. Success will require constant attention, partnership and hard work. But, as a league, we’ve never been in a better position to answer our obligation to the players, everyone who loves the NFL and to the communities we serve.”
The league said last week on social media that it had donated, to that point, $44 million to its social justice initiatives and was committed to spending another $20 million.
“I want to add my voice and the voice of our organization to the calls for equality and reiterate our firm stance against all forms of racism,” Tennessee Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk said in a written statement released Thursday by the team. “Hearts, minds and institutions need to change throughout our country. Those who face racism need to be heard, and more importantly, understood by those who haven’t listened before.”
Strunk joined Goodell in expressing support for peaceful protests by players.
“Hearing our players and coaches speak over the last two weeks has been constructive to this vital discussion,” she said. “I support our players using peaceful protests and their platforms to advance us as a nation. I would encourage those who haven’t thought about these issues before to understand the pain, anger and frustration of the black community. Black lives matter. We should all agree on that.”
Goodell’s video last Friday was released one day after a group of prominent NFL players, including star quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs and Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans, released a video about Floyd’s death and called on the league to act. Goodell’s comments were made with little input from owners, people familiar with the matter said at the time. One of those people said that most but not all owners would be supportive of Goodell backing players’ protests.
The league’s social justice initiatives were established in consultation with the Players Coalition, a group founded by New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins and former NFL wide receiver Anquan Boldin, during the polarizing national debate after President Trump said in the fall of 2017 that owners should fire any player who protests during the anthem. The league also struck an entertainment and social justice partnership last year with music mogul Jay-Z.
Kaepernick, while with the San Francisco 49ers, began the players’ protest movement during the 2016 season by refusing to stand for the anthem to bring attention to racial inequality and police mistreatment of African Americans. Trump and some fans have characterized the players’ protests as unpatriotic and disrespectful to the flag, country and military. Players have said their protests have nothing to do with the military or flag.
Trump recently renewed his criticisms of players’ protests, first after comments by Saints quarterback Drew Brees and then following the NFL’s release of Goodell’s video. Brees apologized after saying in an interview that he would never agree with anyone “disrespecting the flag.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton said during Floyd’s funeral Tuesday in Houston that the league’s apology was insufficient unless Kaepernick is signed by an NFL team. Kaepernick has not played in the league since the 2016 season and settled a collusion grievance accusing the NFL and teams of conspiring improperly, in violation of the collective bargaining agreement, to keep him out of the league.