An under-reported angle in the public, and at times painful, fight for social justice by many NFL players:
The criticism they get from within their own community is often as searing as that outside of it.
Take, for example, Ricardo Allen. Not long ago, the Atlanta Falcons safety appeared at a public event with Troy Vincent, the NFL’s vice president of football operations. Allen took some withering criticism from members of the audience for working with NFL owners, who are overwhelmingly white, to address issues in the black community.
“You heard, ‘Well, they shouldn’t be taking anything,’” Vincent said Thursday, as a panelist of a town hall on race hosted by Stephen Ross’ RISE foundation. “You ain’t get nothing done without no money. Stop it.”
“You saw a player who was actually trying to work towards, ‘Hey, if we get this together, we can do more for our communities,’” Vincent said. “This guy was challenged in his own community of trying to prove his blackness. ‘If you work with the owners, you’re not really down with us.’ I don’t need to prove my blackness and validate where I came from.”
The criticism Allen received does not sound all that different than when Eric Reid called Malcolm Jenkins “a sellout” for negotiating an agreement between the NFL and the Players Coalition that secured some $90 milllion in funding from the league
Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills and Michael Thomas, a safety who played for Miami before signing with the Giants last offseason, were also part of the Players Coalition but, like Reid, quit when they sensed the group was willing to stop kneeling in return for some $90 million in funding for groups trying to address social injustice.
Stills largely shares Reid’s opinion about those who agreed to the deal, but acknowledged last fall that he would have handled the situation differently.
“You also have owners on the other side who say, ‘Why are you having these conversations with these guys?’” Vincent continued. “The courage of the selected few on the owners side, ‘Where are you going with this thing?’ All of these things, that disruption was good. You actually saw that subset of owners, the courage, the fortitude. And then when they came together as one, it was powerful.”
Vincent’s remarks came during the Thursday’s 75-minute town hall, held at the King Center on the grounds of the late Martin Luther King Jr.’s Ebenezer Baptist Church.
It was the fourth year RISE hosted the forum, and while Ross, who owns the Dolphins, was not present for the forum, Browns co-owner Dee Haslam accepted the invitation to speak.
“Shame on us,” Haslam said regarding how long it took for owners to meet with players to address their social justice concerns. “It was the first time we actually sat down with our players and just listened. It was a huge step for us. We’d talked about football, but we never talked to them about life. Once we started listening to the stories and listening to the issues, it really opened up our eyes.”
Another panelist: Brian Banks, who served six years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Banks in 2002 was accused by his high school girlfriend of raping her in their high school’s stairwell.
Banks, an elite football player with a promising future, ultimately was convinced to agree to a plea deal, and was still on strict custody parole when his accuser admitted she made the story up.
“This system is built more on resources and what you have than the truth,” Banks said. “For years, our system has been lopsided. It’s not about truth and justice. It’s about tough on crime. And sometimes, when you’re tough on crime, you put the wrong person behind bars.”