NFL Backs Criminal Justice Reform Bill Amid National Anthem Controversy

Criminal Justice Reform

Several New England Patriots players kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Still stuck in controversy over whether players should protest during the national anthem, the NFL is seemingly trying to reach a middle ground by throwing its support behind a bi-partisan bill aimed at criminal justice reform.

An NFL spokesman announced Monday, Oct. 16, that the league is endorsing a bill to lessen mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenses, get rid of the “three-strike” rule that requires life sentences and gives judges more leeway to cut sentences for certain low-level crimes as they see fit, The Washington Post reported.

“We felt that this was an issue over the last months, as we have continued to work with our players on issues of equality and on issues of criminal justice reform, that was surfaced for us, and we thought it was appropriate to lend our support to it,” spokesperson Joe Lockhart said during a conference call with reporters Monday.

The move is seemingly a contradictory effort by owners to ease tensions between players who feel compelled to kneel during the anthem to protest police brutality and race-based injustice in America and fans riled up over the “disrespectful” demonstrations. Earlier this, month, team owners like the Dallas Cowboy’s Jerry Jones threatened to bench those who refused to stand for the anthem, just weeks after kneeling alongside players in a show of solidarity.

Contested President Donald Trump has also continued to fuel much of the controversy, calling players who kneel “sons of bitches” and advocating for a general boycott of the league until “players stop disrespecting our Flag and Country.” He even accused league owners of being too afraid of its players to discipline them for protesting.

For now, it’s unclear whether the NFL’s efforts will have any effect on the ongoing debate, as public opinions on the matter remain sharply divided.

On Monday, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin and league Commissioner Roger Goodell penned a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of the bi-partisan bill known as the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017. Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) are the legislation’s two mains sponsors.

“The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act would address many of the issues on which our players have worked to raise awareness over the last two seasons,” their letter read. “Ultimately we all share a responsibility toward a path toward unity — one that goes well beyond sports.”

“The [NFL] applauds the introduction of this bi-partisan criminal justice reform bill and as well as your ongoing commitment to upholding America’s promise of justice for all,” they added. “We stand ready to work with you to advance this important legislation.”

In late September, the Seahawks also launched the Players Equality & Justice For All Action Fund to promote equality and justice through education and leadership programs. Baldwin said the fund was a collaborative effort among him and his teammates to figure out ways they could affect social change.

So far, the bipartisan bill has earned the support of several influential groups, including the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Charles Koch Institute, The Washington Post reported. The NFL is the only sports league that has signed on, however.

Despite the support, the struggle to get the legislation passed remains, as key Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Attorney General Jeff Sessions (who many have accused of trying to wage a second war on drugs) continue to oppose it.

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