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NFL owners approve local funding for deal with players, discuss anthem policy

No proposals were made regarding anthem, but topic likely will be revisited in May

ORLANDO, Florida — The NFL ratified the budget for its social justice initiative with players on Monday, and the league may soon make a major change to its national anthem policy.

At the league meetings here, owners unanimously approved the local matching funds portion of their landmark seven-year, $89 million proposal to bankroll causes considered important to African-American communities.

Meanwhile, owners also discussed the anthem policy as it relates to player protests, though no proposals were made, league sources said. At the May league meeting in Atlanta, owners likely will address ongoing fan backlash the past two seasons to the protests, which were intended to shine a light on racial injustice.

To stop the protests, the easiest, and most likely, move for the NFL would be to change the wording in the game operations manual. Under the current rule, players are not required to stand for the anthem (in the NBA, players must stand). One proposal with momentum, league sources have said for months, is to add wording that would prohibit teams from being on the field while the song is being performed, thereby removing players’ ability to protest in that forum.

The NFL commissioner’s office did not officially comment on the vote approving the funding package. The move was expected. Not surprisingly, the leaders of the Players Coalition, the main group that negotiated with the league on behalf of players who protested, had a lot to say.

Former NFL wide receiver Anquan Boldin and Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, co-founders of the coalition, expressed thanks for the league’s support.

“I applaud commissioner [Roger] Goodell and the owners for being men of their word and taking the concerns of the players seriously,” Boldin said in a text message to The Undefeated. “I look forward to continually working with them to create real change.”

Under the deal, the $89 million has been earmarked for both national and local projects. On the national level, this year owners will allocate $5 million, with their commitment growing annually and maxing out at $12 million per year from 2021 through 2023. The $73 million in national funding had previously been vetted and approved, league sources said.

“This gives players on every team the opportunity to multiply their impact and effectively participate in advancing their communities.”Malcolm Jenkins

On Monday, owners dealt with funding at the local level. Owners will put up $250,000 annually and expect players to match that amount, totaling $500,000 for each team, according to league sources and documents obtained by The Undefeated. Players and owners can exceed that amount if they choose, with no matching requirement. There would be other fundraising opportunities, including telethons and auctions of jerseys worn in games.

In another text message, Jenkins stated that “players, who have long been trying to help their communities in individual ways can now request the assistance of their team to match funds for contributions to local grassroots organizations with a focus to impact police-community relations, education and economic advancement and criminal justice reform.”

The agreement calls for national funds to be allocated accordingly: 25 percent to the United Negro College Fund, 25 percent to Dream Corps and 50 percent to the coalition.

Money at both the national and local levels will provide grants for nonprofit organizations focused on law enforcement and community relations, criminal justice reform and education reform. A working group of five players, five owners (or owners’ representatives) and two NFL staff members will help identify future initiatives to pursue.

For months, Goodell and Troy Vincent, the league’s vice president of football operations, strived to find common ground with Boldin and Jenkins. The four men moved forward together even after a high-profile split occurred in the coalition.

The deal enables the coalition to “better support these grassroots organizations that are closest to the problem yet are often underfunded,” Jenkins wrote. “Small grants can make a big impact on real people on a local level. This gives players on every team the opportunity to multiply their impact and effectively participate in advancing their communities.”

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