As the most profitable sports league in the world with more than $13 billion in revenue last season, the NFL is an organization with outsize influence. Yet it has been seemingly powerless to stop the fallout from fans and advertisers over some players’ public protests of police brutality.
In an effort to placate the players and hopefully end the protests, the league recently offered $89 million over seven years to a nonprofit called the Players Coalition, with the money intended to go toward social justice causes. The organization, which includes about 40 players and was founded as a way to give the protesting players a unified voice, had been negotiating with league officials and commissioner Roger Goodell about a solution to the protests for some time.
But the NFL’s offer seems to be a move to try to silence the players and control the narrative, rather than a genuine effort to help fight against systematic racial oppression. San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid, who was the first player to kneel alongside Colin Kaepernick for the national anthem last season, called the move “a charade” and cut his ties with the Players Coalition after it was announced. The deal does not include a prohibition on kneeling during the national anthem, although the league is clear that it would like the protests to end.
Though the dollar figure is jaw-dropping, the players who left the coalition say the NFL isn’t actually donating any new money. Instead, Reid said that the money would simply be diverted from already existing programs, such as the NFL’s breast cancer awareness initiative or Salute to Service, which honors the United States military, a charge the league denies.
In addition, it appears that the NFL will seek to control how the Players Coalition will spend the money. The agreement calls for $73 million of the total donation to be spent on national initiatives. Half of that $73 million will go directly to the Players Coalition, with the other half being split evenly between the United Negro College Fund and Dream Corps, two other philanthropic organizations. But how, precisely, those organizations use the funds will be up to a group of 12 people, seven of whom will be representatives of the NFL, according to ESPN.
This wouldn’t be the first time the NFL has tried to direct how its donations are spent. After awarding a $30 million grant to the National Institutes of Health in 2012 to help fund concussion research, the league quietly backed out of the study. Though the money was billed as an “unrestricted gift,” the NFL refused to allow $16 million of the award to fund a study it perceived as biased against the league.
At the same time, Kaepernick, who has still gone unsigned by an NFL team, has donated nearly $1 million of his own money to various social justice organizations over the course of 10 months. If the NFL’s 32 franchises agreed to cover the $89 million donation, it would cost them each a little under $400,000 per year over seven years.
When compared with Goodell’s recent contract extension, which totals $200 million and will pay him about $40 million annually through 2023, it makes little sense why the league is so unwilling to pay out of pocket to contribute to worthy causes.
The systematic oppression that some NFL players are speaking out against is very real and is felt by millions of people across the country on a daily basis. By attempting to control which causes the players will be able to support, the NFL is showing once again how little it values the perspectives of its athletes.
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