African-American males are only six percent of the United States population, but comprise 70 percent of NFL players. Seventy-seven percent of the NFL fans are white; 15 percent are black and 8 percent are Hispanic. Seventy percent of NFL owners are Jewish. The NFL’s viewership is down 10 to fifteen percent. In a poll, 85 percent of whites said NFL players kneeling in protest during the national anthem are hurting the cause of racial justice. Many whites have always been in a hurry for African-Americans to stop griping about discrimination and get over it.
In a move to put more butts in stadium seats and in front of home entertainment centers, the NFL has committed $89M over seven years to social justice causes. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and a group of players agreed to partner on a plan to address social justice issues considered important to African-American communities. The agreement calls for the league to contribute $89 million over seven years to projects dealing with criminal justice reform, law enforcement/community relations and education.
Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins and former NFL wide receiver Anquan Boldin head the Players Coalition, roughly 40 players who have negotiated with the league office about demonstrations during the national anthem. The initiative represents the NFL’s largest contribution to a social issue. The Players Coalition’s newly created nonprofit will get half the funds, which will be dispersed in varying amounts through 2023. The rest will be split — 25 percent each — between the United Negro College Fund and the Dream Corps.
Players came to the table in a rare position of power, because many fans have cited protests as the main reason they’ve tuned out the NFL the past two seasons. Concerned about ongoing fan backlash and the angst of the league’s corporate partners, Goodell pushed hard to establish the framework of a deal.
The Players Coalition’s agreement does not include language calling for players to end protests during the national anthem in exchange for funds; there’s no implicit quid pro quo. But the NFL hopes this effort will effectively end the peaceful yet controversial movement that former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started in 2016.
Under the proposal, the $89 million has been earmarked over a seven-year period for both national and local projects. On the national level, owners this year will allocate $5 million, with their commitment growing annually and maxing out at $12 million per year from 2021 through 2023. At the local level, owners would put up $250,000 annually and expect players to match that amount, totaling $500,000 for each team. In addition, there would be other fundraising opportunities, including telethons and auctions of jerseys worn in games.
At $13 billion a year, the NFL is the world’s “most profitable” sport. To protect league revenues, Goodell and Troy Vincent, NFL executive vice president of football operations, sought for months to find common ground with players who took knees and raised fists. The owners could have attempted to push through new rules regarding the anthem in the NFL game-operations manual during offseason committee meetings. However, trying to force players to stand for the anthem would have undoubtedly triggered a fierce battle with the NFL Players Association.
Meanwhile, Colin Kaepernick has accused NFL owners of collusive acts. But, there is likely no smoking gun that 32 teams decided to leave him without a job. One of the most disturbing things is the way that teams have lost their incentive to be good; rather, deciding to give fans a worse product than assume a modicum of risk. Team owners condemned President Trump’s comments that players who refuse to stand for the national anthem should be fired or suspended. The Jerry Joneses of the NFL might be conspiring against Kap, but based on their sense for business and the historical camaraderie with blacks, an enlightened Jewish owner may step forward and sign Kaepernick to a contract. Hey, Doug Williams, it’s time to make a move!
William Reed is publisher of “Who’s Who in Black Corporate America” and available for projects via Busxchng@his.com.