A year ago, I was one of several NFL players who began demonstrating in the hope of sparking conversation about injustice in our country. That effort has now grown to include players and teams across the league, as we proclaim together that we believe in equality and justice for everyone. We understand that these conversations are often uncomfortable, but they are important for progress. Our demonstrations have never been about the symbols and traditions we use to honor America. They have been about us as citizens making sure we hold America to the ideals and promises that make this country great.
We believe our country can do better—can be better.
In the past year, more than 40 NFL players have joined Anquan Boldin, who retired this summer after 14 seasons, and me to form a Players Coalition dedicated to improving our criminal-justice system.
We want to lend our voices to changing this flawed system, which is crippling our nation and especially affects people who are poor or of color. We have gone on ride-alongs with police, visited Capitol Hill and talked with policy advocates and grass-roots organizers. We’ve learned first-hand about the problems we face. We’ve also learned that we aren’t alone. There are plenty of Republicans and Democrats, community leaders and members of law enforcement who agree.
We as citizens must make this work a priority. Consider our money-bail system. In 2016, police punched 58-year-old Gilbert Cruz in the face and arrested him for refusing to leave his own home during an investigation. Unable to make the $3,500 bail, Cruz spent more than two months in a Houston jail. By the time prosecutors finally dropped the case after concluding he had committed no crime, Cruz had lost his job, his car and almost his home.
The system punishes even after you’ve served your time. As many as 1 in 3 Americans has a criminal record. Criminal records keep people from getting jobs. Philadelphia native Ronald Lewis runs his own HVAC business, where he hires people from his neighborhood. But two misdemeanor convictions from 13 years ago continue to keep him from getting contracts that could help his business grow.
The system has unleashed an extraordinary burden on communities of color. Mass incarceration and the war on drugs have destroyed lives, families and whole communities for generations. Communities of color have also had to watch video after video of unarmed black men and women being handled without regard for their lives or well-being. As a black man, I see these images and I see myself; I wonder whether this will happen to me or one of my loved ones.
For Boldin, it did. His cousin was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer after his car broke down on the side of the road. We have borne witness to the deaths of Philando Castile, Jordan Edwards, Tamir Rice and countless others.
In honor of their names, we are joining the fight for change. We are demanding police transparency and accountability so we can build trust and work together to make our communities safer.
We are fighting to end the money-bail system by investing in community bail funds and advocating legislation that does away with money bail altogether.
We are fighting to pass clean-slate legislation in Pennsylvania to seal nonviolent misdemeanor records automatically after 10 years. We must provide opportunities for employment, housing, education, loans and voting. We should not disenfranchise a third of the population.
I’ve heard people say that my colleagues and I are un-American and unpatriotic. Well, we want to make America great. We want to help make our country safe and prosperous. We want a land of justice and equality. True patriotism is loving your country and countrymen enough to want to make it better.
To make this work, we need to understand one another. I’m grateful for my teammate Chris Long, who as a white man has faced none of the issues I’ve laid out here. But as a teammate, brother and fellow citizen, he was willing to listen to my call for change. He didn’t agree with my demonstration, but he knew what I was trying to accomplish, and he supported my cause in a way that was true to him. When he put his arm around me as I raised my fist during the national anthem, I think it showed people that regardless of how you feel about the demonstration, you can still stand by somebody who may be struggling for a bigger cause.
That support goes a long way. And Chris followed it up with action. He allowed me to take him to see what was going on in the communities of Philadelphia. We talked with the police. We talked to community leaders about the struggles of men and women coming in and out of our justice system. We went to bail hearings, and we talked to public defenders. He didn’t have to do any of that. Since that tour, Chris, too, is searching for a way he can become a part of the solution.
This is where we need to point our attention now. Not to guys demonstrating but to the issues and work to be done in cities across the country.
Regardless of one’s opinion about the NFL and others “taking a knee” (as a Vietnam vet I have a strong opinion) the intent has been lost in the dispute. I think what Mr. Kaepernick wanted to draw attention to, police brutality and racial inequality, was just. But now it has devolved into controversy over whether to kneel, which knee — left, right or both — stay in the locker room or link arms, do owners join in too, etc. And all this coming from folks paid tens of millions to play an adult version of Pop Warner football so fans can be “entertained.”
On Sept. 24 players kneeled on Gold Star Mothers Day. Gold Star moms are mothers who have lost a son or daughter in combat. This is what Vanessa Adelson, the mother of Stephan Mace who was killed in Afghanistan in 2008, had to say about it:
“So today we have had a lot of negativity about the NFL. Who cares? These people are insignificant in our lives. They don’t teach our children how they should behave. That is your job. They don’t make you less of a patriot.
That is your job to show America what being a patriot means. Most players do nothing to make this country better. Insignificant. Not worthy of my attention. ... This is what is worthy. Today is Gold Star Mother’s Day. I have had people tag me today, telling me they are thinking of me. This is what I have to say: God provides! Everyday is ‘mothers’ day for me. I was given the gift of many new people in my life. Many that call me ‘mom.’ That is what is significant in my life.”
C W Gray
As matters stand, Sen. Risch of Idaho, who was in his early days in the Idaho legislature when Church became chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, may become the next head of that sometimes powerful panel.
That wasn’t a closely considered proposition, at least not widely, until this last week. That was when the current chair, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, declared himself out of the Senate when his current term ends after next year. (Washington Post headline: “The Most Interesting Part of Corker’s Retirement Isn’t What You Think It Is.”)
Chair successions are not automatic, but usually the next most senior committee member moves up, and — if Republicans still control the Senate after next year’s elections — that would be Risch.
Next up after Risch is a senator much better known nationally, Marco Rubio of Florida, and he surely would like that gavel, especially if he’s looking at a 2020 presidential run. But in the Senate, the process rules. Risch was quoted as saying about the chairmanship, “We have a long, clear history of how these things are resolved in the Senate. We will follow that route when we get there.” Sounds a little cryptic, but I translate this way: I’m next in line.
Whether or not Risch had advance warning for Corker’s departure, groundwork for it is in place.
In Risch’s first term he was a nearly invisible senator — in news and other media and even in press releases. In his second term that has changed. He has become a frequent talking head on news programs, and when there, seems to discuss foreign affairs more often than other subjects. While many senators avoid (as Corker did) talking about re-election prospects more than two years out, Risch has made his re-election plans for 2020 quite clear. Whether or not Risch had a sense of the chair opening, he does seem to have prepared for the possibility.
What he might do with it is another matter.
Idahoans Borah, who chaired it from 1924 to 1933, and Church, from 1978 to 1981, were among the most prominent political figures of their day, and not only because both ran for president. Both had strong commentaries on foreign affairs, both were willing to buck presidents — of both parties — and both were skeptical of involvement overseas, in Borah’s case to the point of isolationism. Their perspectives were clear and sometimes ran against the grain, but stood aside from political considerations. (Both probably paid a political price for their views on foreign policy.)
How would Risch compare? During the Obama administration, Risch was active on the foreign relations committee but did not mark out very distinctive territory. He delivered one of the best analyses anywhere of the prospects for American involvement in Syria, but it was not a clear-cut stance (take that as praise), and his views on foreign relations overall seem hard to summarize easily.
During the Trump administration, Risch has been a Trump loyalist; he has come to the president’s defense on several occasions. (The statistics website “538” puts Risch at voting 91.8 percent in line with Trump.) There’s little reason to think he’d be leading a charge to review or investigate Trump relations with other countries.
But a change of chair is months away. In the meantime, watch Risch’s comments, which can sometimes run toward the cryptic, to see where he comes out — a Trump loyalist or someone more like a Borah or Church.