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Color of Change helps NFL players map out agenda at both national and local levels

Civil rights organization counsels players to back candidates in district attorney races

While NFL owners and players continue to slog through the divisive issue of protests during the anthem, work to promote the players’ fight against racial injustice moves forward around the process.

Despite the postponement of a proposed meeting Monday between the sides, players still maintain hope that owners will partner with them in an effort to help bridge the nation’s racial divide, thereby encouraging players to cease demonstrating during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Criminal justice reform is the centerpiece of the players’ plan to address negative interactions between law enforcement and African-American communities, and Color of Change is among the civil rights organizations assisting players at both a national and grass-roots level.

A coalition of players that includes Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins and recently retired wide receiver Anquan Boldin has used the expertise of racial justice organizations to educate themselves about how to best effect changes in policing, bail reform and sentencing, among other areas that have led to the disproportionate incarceration of African-American men. For the players, if they can reach consensus with owners on a multipronged plan that would result in ending protests, their full-time focus would shift to criminal justice issues.

Jenkins, Boldin and other players have visited Capitol Hill to push for change. Commissioner Roger Goodell and Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin recently co-signed a letter sent to congressional leaders backing a bipartisan bill that seeks criminal justice reform.

At the local level, though, Color of Change has counseled players to back candidates in district attorney races favorable to their cause. District attorneys oversee cases in their jurisdiction and determine whether to file charges. By helping progressive candidates win elections, players could help produce positive change early in the process, said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change.

“Some of the players have already spoken out around bail reform, which is important,” Robinson said. “But we’ve also really been trying to urge them to think about things like district attorney elections. In so many ways, the most powerful actors are these folks in local communities making decisions every single day.”

Eric Reid got the message. During a recent interview with The Undefeated, the San Francisco 49ers safety, who’s a leader in the movement that then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick ignited last season, stressed the importance of helping the right candidates get into office.

“We’re looking at all the ways we can to help people, and that can start before they even get into” the criminal justice system, said Reid, the first player to kneel alongside Kaepernick. “We’d like to see changes that improve the way [the criminal justice system] deals with people all the way through [the process], and definitely at the beginning. It’s the whole thing that needs to change, and we need to do everything we can do to make that happen.”

Miami Dolphins safety Michael Thomas agrees. There’s nothing more important than to improve how African-Americans view law enforcement, Thomas said recently.

“It’s really the most important thing that can help, the most important thing that we have to work for, to really try to accomplish what we want,” Thomas said. “If you can make that change at the ground floor on something, it can improve things as you go higher up.

“That’s what you want. That’s why it’s not only about [anthem protests]. It was never just about that. We’ve always been looking at different things we can do to improve people’s lives, starting from anywhere we can. Helping people get elected is a way to do that.”

Without a doubt, NFL players, because of their massive platform, can help make that happen, Color of Change’s Robinson said.

“Often when we talk about criminal justice, the talk is, ‘What is [President Donald] Trump doing?’ The talk is, ‘What is [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions doing? We ask, ‘What did [former President Barack] Obama do?’ We ask, ‘What would Hillary Clinton have done?’ ” Robinson said. “But these local [district attorney] elections are definitely very important, and these players are local heroes. Sports stars who are wanting to speak out on the role of the DA, with the fact that there are going to be [many] district attorney elections happening in November, is really just a great opportunity.”

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at The Undefeated. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.