Earlier this month, President Trump signaled he was willing to postpone his increasingly hostile war with the NFL, which in part led to him canceling a celebration of the Eagles’ Super Bowl victory, to hear from the players who protested racial injustice during the national anthem.
“I’m going to ask them to recommend to me people who were unfairly treated,” Trump told reporters outside the White House. “I am going to ask all of those people to recommend to me — because that’s what they’re protesting — people that they think were unfairly treated by the justice system,”
On Thursday, four of those players responded.
In an op-ed for the New York Times, Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, Panthers wide receiver Torrey Smith, Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin and Saints tight end Benjamin Watson gave credit to Trump for taking Kim Kardashian’s recommendation to commute the sentence of 63-year-old Alice Johnson, who was serving a life sentence for a non-violent drug conviction. But the players also said individual pardons aren’t enough to address problems in the criminal justice system.
“If President Trump thinks he can end these injustices if we deliver him a few names, he hasn’t been listening to us,” the NFL players wrote. “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.”
Among the recommendations the players had for the president were to issue a blanket pardon for people in Johnson’s situation and order the release of any drug offender older than age 60 with a non-recent conviction. They also pressed Trump to work with Attorney General Jeff Sessions to eliminate life without parole for nonviolent offenses.
“Our being professional athletes has nothing to do with our commitment to fighting injustice,” the players wrote. “We are citizens who embrace the values of empathy, integrity and justice, and we will fight for what we believe is right.”
Jenkins, who has been outspoken on criminal-justice issues and has raised his fist during the national anthem to protest injustice, also spoke directly to Trump in a short video the Eagles defender posted on Twitter.
— Malcolm Jenkins (@MalcolmJenkins) June 21, 2018
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
It’s unclear if the outreach will impact Trump’s belief that players who protest during the national anthem aren’t patriotic and are being disrespectful to the armed forces, something he reportedly told Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was a “very winning, strong issue for me.”
“You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing,” Trump said in an interview on Fox & Friends in May. “Maybe they shouldn’t be in the country.”
The NFL revived the issue in May when owners passed a new rule that will prevent players and personnel from protesting racial injustice on the sideline during the national anthem. Instead, the league will allow players to remain in the locker room. Jenkins had said he planned to stop his raised-fist protest next season, but he told my colleague Les Bowen he’s reconsidering his decision due to the NFL’s new policy.
“I haven’t made a decision on that,” Jenkins said, pointing out the league doesn’t have similar mandates on other issues, such as breast cancer awareness. “It’s just when you start talking about black folks, quite frankly. It’s disheartening, but we’ll continue to be creative.”
No Eagles players took a knee during the anthem during the regular season or the playoffs last year.