Plagued by sagging ratings, player protests and fan outrage, the NFL has thrown a political Hail Mary by reportedly agreeing to dole out millions of dollars to two social justice groups connected to Democratic billionaire George Soros.
Under an agreement with the Players Coalition, NFL owners plan to funnel tens of millions of dollars to the Dream Corps, a leftist advocacy group led by former Obama adviser Van Jones and linked to Mr. Soros, which has called for saving the Clean Power Plan, cutting the prison population by half and providing “sanctuary for all.”
The $89 million, seven-year deal also carves out millions of dollars for the Players Coalition, according to ESPN, which has been advised by Soros-funded groups such as the Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth and the Center for American Progress, a leader of the anti-Trump “resistance.”
NFL spokesman Joseph Lockhart stressed Monday that there has been no final decision on the agreement.
“No decisions have been made on where the money will go yet, much less all the money over the next 7 years,” Mr. Lockhart said in an email. “Those decisions will be made by the working group that has not been formed yet.”
Still, there is no guarantee that the hefty payout will solve the league’s public relations woes.
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The bargain is aimed at addressing the social justice concerns that have led players to sit or kneel during the national anthem, but nothing in the deal requires players to stand.
In fact, two of the most dedicated protesters — Eric Reid of the San Francisco 49ers and Michael Thomas of the Miami Dolphins — have vowed to keep kneeling and described the deal as inadequate.
Meanwhile, details of the bargain emerging in the past few days have stunned conservatives.
“If this is how the NFL plans to bring back the millions of Americans who are fed up with the players’ antics and anthem protests, then the league just fumbled the ball,” said Robert Kuykendall, a spokesman for 2ndVote, a conservative corporate watchdog group.
“Why would any conservative spend another dollar supporting the NFL if that dollar will be directly funneled to left-wing activists like Van Jones?” he asked.
The agreement distributes funding for both local and national efforts. On the national side, the owners agree to pay $73 million over seven years, with 25 percent earmarked for the United Negro College Fund and 25 percent to the Dream Corps.
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The remaining 50 percent would be controlled by the Players Coalition, which has filed for 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status, as a fiscally sponsored project of the Hopewell Fund, which is managed by Arabella Advisors, a major player in the environmental movement.
Any agreement would need to be approved by the owners at the annual league meeting in March, according to ESPN.
Players Coalition leader Malcolm Jenkins, a Philadelphia Eagles safety, celebrated the deal in an open letter Sunday, praising the NFL for “making a major commitment, more than they have done for any other charitable initiative.”
“What the NFL has done is a good first step — it’s not going to solve the massive problems we have in our cities and states across this country, but it’s a start,” Mr. Jenkins said. “And, more importantly, I’m glad we were able to get them to acknowledge their responsibility and role in trying to help solve these problems and injustices.”
He thanked “the organizations who have helped the Players Coalition to date — the Fair Punishment Project, the ACLU, the Center for American Progress, Community Legal Services, the Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth,” as well as city police departments, grass-roots groups and public defenders.
At least three of those — the ACLU, Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth and the Center for American Progress — have received funding from Mr. Soros’ Open Society Foundations.
Mr. Soros’ fingerprints can also be found on the Dream Corps, which merged in 2014 with Green for All, an environmental group founded by Mr. Jones in 2007 whose funders included Open Society as well as former Vice President Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection, according to Discover the Networks.
Mr. Jones resigned as President Obama’s “green jobs czar” in 2009 amid reports of his earlier Marxist activism, including his oft-quoted declaration that he became a communist after the 1992 acquittal of Los Angeles police officers who beat up Rodney King.
Since then, Mr. Jones has championed the green energy industry and raised his profile as a CNN political analyst.
The Dream Corps has four primary projects: YesWeCode, which trains disadvantaged young people as computer programmers; Cut50, which calls for reducing the U.S. prison population by 50 percent; Green for All, which advocates for an “inclusive green economy”; and the LoveArmy.
The LoveArmy casts itself as a more hopeful and less-negative resistance group whose stances include support for net neutrality and opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline, the Keystone XL pipeline and the Clean Power Plan.
Mr. Jones wore a #LoveArmy sticker when he spoke Jan. 21 at the Women’s March, a major anti-Trump resistance event whose partners included the Dream Corps, which describes itself as a “social justice accelerator.”
“This movement is not going to let you mess with the Muslims,” Mr. Jones said at the march. “This movement is not going to let you mess with the Dreamers, President Trump. We’re not going to let you mess with the women. We’re not going to let you mess with the Earth. We’re not going to let you mess with Black Lives Matter. This movement is based on that kind of love.”
The LoveArmy, whose posters include messages such as “Ban Wall/Sanctuary for All,” also supported the Climate March and Day Without a Woman events.
About 40 players were involved in the Players Coalition, and others have criticized the agreement, accusing the NFL of financing the deal by diverting funding from its other major charitable initiatives, Salute to Service and Breast Cancer Awareness.
The NFL and the Players Coalition did not return immediately a request for comment Monday. The NFL Players Association, which is the players’ union, has said it was not involved in the talks.
In his open letter, Mr. Jenkins said he helped form the Players Coalition in 2016 in reaction to the deaths of black men at the hands of police. He said the priorities include tackling the juvenile justice system, the “unjust bail policies,” the “mass incarceration of young black men” and lack of jobs in low-income neighborhoods.
“What we’ve learned is that this is not a Democrat or a Republican issue,” said Mr. Jenkins. “It’s an American issue — and an American problem. That is why we are moving forward with our efforts in the Coalition, to drive forward initiatives, campaigns and advocacy efforts to force legislators to make this a priority.”
Sixteen players sat or took a knee before the Week 13 games, while Mr. Jenkins stopped his practice of raising a fist during the national anthem.