- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2018

After two years of kneeling players and plummeting ratings, NFL owners are expected next week to put the finishing touches on an $89 million social justice package intended to defuse the sideline protest problem that began with Colin Kaepernick in 2016 and put the focus back on what happens on the field.

But while some activist players have indicated that it’s time to move on — unsigned safety Eric Reid, for one, said Thursday that his anthem-kneeling days are over — others have said no deal. The package’s $25 million for former Obama administration figure Van Jones and his left-wing Dream Corps isn’t likely to sit well with conservatives already fed up with the league’s politics.

According to the NFL, the unprecedented $89 million package — the biggest topic on the agenda for the annual owners meetings that begin Sunday in Orlando, Florida, — includes no stipulation that players must stand before games for the national anthem.

“There will be discussion on social responsibility matters. As has been reported, the league already set aside funds for these issues,” said NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy. “It’s anticipated that there would be a vote next week for the clubs to provide funds from the team level.”

He added, “Separately, no vote is expected concerning game-day anthem protocols.”

Even without a quid pro quo, the hope was that players would respond by ceasing their polarizing sideline protests, following the lead of Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, who said in November that he would stop raising a fist after helping broker the agreement as part of a group he co-founded called the Players Coalition.

That plan took a hit when Reid, who wanted to bring Kaepernick into the negotiations, quit the coalition in late November, joined by Miami Dolphins safety Michael Thomas and Los Angeles Chargers tackle Russell Okung.

Since then, however, Reid has remained unsigned — now more than a week after the start of free agency March 14, fueling speculation that he would become the next Kaepernick, a high-profile quarterback who failed to sign with a team after leading the anthem protests in 2016.

After his brother Justin’s pro day at Stanford on Thursday, Reid told reporters that “I’m just going to consider different ways to be active. Different ways to bring awareness to the issues of this country.

“I don’t think it will be in the form of protesting during the anthem, and I say ‘during’ because it’s crazy that the narrative got changed that we were protesting the anthem. That wasn’t the case,” Reid said, as reported by The Associated Press. “But I think we’re going to take a different approach to how to be active.”

Reid has suggested that he has been blackballed over his sideline activism, tweeting March 15 that general managers “aren’t the hold up broski. It’s ownership. People who know football know who can play. People who know me, know my character.”

Other players have also spoken out about his predicament. “We are concerned because he played at a high level for just about every year that he’s played in this league,” said newly signed 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman.

“I think great teams are still looking and people are still looking for players,” Sherman said at his March 20 introductory press conference. “I’m praying that he gets picked up, but if he doesn’t, then I think there will be a conversation with the league office and the union on potential league action.”

Kaepernick has filed a grievance with the NFL claiming that the team owners colluded against him over his high-profile kneeling in the 2016 season, during which time he also wore a Fidel Castro T-shirt and socks depicting pigs in police hats.

While the $89 million agreement is expected to satisfy most protest-minded players, it may not assuage right-leaning fans worried about where their ticket dollars will be funneled.

The deal reportedly includes $73 million for national causes that will reportedly be split three ways: 25 percent to the United Negro College Fund, 25 percent to the Dream Corps and 50 percent to the Players Coalition, which has filed for nonprofit status and has hired the Hopewell Fund to oversee the agreement.

There is plenty to make conservatives nervous about the Dream Corps, a left-wing justice reform and environmental advocacy group headed by Mr. Jones, and Hopewell, managed by Arabella Advisors, which helps clients “create social change.”

In addition, Jenkins has credited a number of left-leaning groups for assisting the coalition, including the George Soros-funded Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth and the Center for American Progress.

Robert Kuykendall, a spokesman for the conservative corporate watchdog 2ndVote, called the agreement a “shakedown.”

“Given the NFL Players Association’s history of donating to so-called ‘resistance’ organizations tied to George Soros, we can assume the newly formed Players Coalition will be funneling these supposed settlement dollars to left-wing advocacy organizations,” he said in a Thursday statement.

“The NFL’s brand has suffered because it has given left-wing agitators a platform and the millions deciding not to watch the games is evidence that the fans are tired of the politicization of football,” said Mr. Kuykendall. “By formally caving, the NFL will confirm it has no qualms against using the dollars fans spend on tickets and merchandise to fund the left’s agenda and further alienate viewers who just want to see agenda-free football.”

Conservatives may be encouraged by another offseason move. The NFL recently reshuffled its communications department, saying goodbye after Super Bowl LII to two top executives with heavy Democratic Party ties.

Joe Lockhart, a former Clinton White House press secretary is headed to CNN after two years as the NFL’s chief communications officer. Senior Vice President of Communications Natalie Ravitz, a former top aide to Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, is also leaving.

The NFL’s ratings plummeted by 9.7 percent in the regular season as liberals staged a boycott over Kaepernick’s not being signed and conservatives tuned out over the anthem protests.

About 17 players sat or knelt for the national anthem in the final regular-season game, down from nearly 200 in Week 3, but nobody did so during the playoffs or the Super Bowl.

“From the beginning, Colin has been flexible,” said Reid, who added that he had no team visits planned. “He started by sitting — he changed it up. We decided to kneel. And we understand that you’ve got to change with the times.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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