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“It’s a Charade”

The San Francisco 49ers’ Eric Reid says the NFL wants to use breast cancer awareness and “Salute to Service” funds to buy off protesting players.

Eric Reid celebrates after intercepting a pass against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday in Santa Clara, California.
Eric Reid celebrates after intercepting a pass against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday in Santa Clara, California.
Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

In an interview with Slate on Thursday, the San Francisco 49ers’ Eric Reid said he’s been told the NFL is planning to allow owners to shift money that’s been pledged to other charitable giving campaigns into a newly announced, seven-year $89 million program to fund social justice causes. This apparent plan to redistribute funding from breast cancer awareness and military service initiatives was one of a number of reasons Reid says he has walked away from the Players Coalition. That group, led by the Philadelphia Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins and retired wide receiver Anquan Boldin, led the way in striking a tentative deal with the NFL this week.

League officials have reportedly expressed hope that this new, nearly $100 million program would end the practice of players protesting during the national anthem. Indeed, Jenkins announced on Thursday that he will cease to raise his fist during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Reid, though, says that as far as he knows, Jenkins is the only protesting player who supports this deal with the league, which ESPN reported on Thursday will focus on “projects dealing with criminal justice reform, law enforcement/community relations and education.”

Reid says Jenkins mentioned the idea that the league might shuffle money around during conversations with Reid and other players. “In the discussion that we had, Malcolm conveyed to us—based on discussions that he had with the NFL—that the money would come from funds that are already allocated to breast cancer awareness and Salute to Service,” Reid said in an interview with Slate. “So it would really be no skin off the owners’ backs: They would just move the money from those programs to this one.”

“We didn’t agree with that, because we weren’t trying to cut other worthy programs,” he added, discussing his and other players’ decision, announced on Wednesday, to leave the Players Coalition. “They moved forward anyways.” (Miami Dolphins safety Michael Thomas and Los Angeles Chargers offensive lineman Russell Okung joined Reid on Wednesday in announcing their decisions to leave the Players Coalition.*)

Salute to Service is the league’s program “supporting military personnel” and “raising awareness for the sacrifices they make on our behalf.” If Reid is correct, it would be ironic that the NFL is shifting funds away from this troop-supporting initiative when the protesting players have been attacked for supposedly disrespecting the military with their social justice protest.

Reid said he believes the NFL wanted to make the deal as palatable as possible to owners by offering them the opportunity to shift funds rather than open their wallets. If the owners paid for the seven-year, $89 million program out of their own pockets, it would cost each of the 32 NFL franchises slightly less than $400,000 per year.

“[NFL Commissioner] Roger Goodell is trying to make this as easy for the owners to agree to as possible so that—again, their goal is to end the protests,” Reid said. “He’s trying to make it as easy possible to do that for the owners. He’s going to present them with a proposal saying, Look you really don’t have to do anything. We’re just going to shift this money from this area and just move it here.”

As of Thursday afternoon, the NFL had not responded to a request from Slate for comment on Reid’s claims. A representative for Jenkins likewise had not responded to a request for comment.

Reid also confirmed a report in Slate published earlier on Thursday that laid out some of his objections to the proposal. That piece indicated he had received a message prior to the deal’s completion asking, “Would you be willing to end the protests if they made a donation?” Reid told reporters on Wednesday—and confirmed to Slate on Thursday—that Jenkins had been the one to ask him that question. “At no point did we ever communicate that an agreement with the NFL would end the protests, so for him to come to that point with the league, it was the last straw for me,” Reid said, per ESPN.

In his interview with Slate, Reid said he doesn’t believe the Jenkins-led group that agreed to the deal with the NFL spoke for many—or possibly any—of the players who have knelt and sat during the national anthem in contravention of the league’s wishes.

While there have been reports that more than 40 players have been involved in Jenkins’ Players Coalition, Reid says “that’s not accurate as it relates to this proposal.” According to Reid, 17 players have participated in group chat discussions about the proposed deal, and not all of those players have been involved on every call in which the proposal was outlined. “Based on my understanding, every player who was actually protesting [aside from Jenkins] was not in agreement [with] this proposal,” Reid told Slate. “That leaves a remaining, I guess, nine or so players who don’t protest who were in agreement with the proposal.”

Reid said it was his belief that the Jenkins-brokered deal had the official backing of less than 1 percent of the league’s nearly 1,700 rostered players, none of whom have knelt or sat during the anthem. The NFL Players Association—the union that represents the league’s players—told Slate on Wednesday that it was “not directly involved” in the discussions over the new proposal and could not comment.

ESPN reported on Thursday that Goodell had been “furious” to learn that not all of the protesting players had agreed to the deal. ESPN also reported that there was “no implicit quid pro quo” in that deal for players to stop their anthem protests, although the league hoped the players would.

Reid believes there was in fact an expectation that players would stop their protests. He says Jenkins told him “that he left the conversation [with a league official] with a strong feeling that once they made a monetary contribution, that they would expect us to stop protesting.”

Reid also questioned whether players who had stood by the coalition but had declined to protest were actually putting anything at risk. “I think [it’s] obvious,” he said, “that these are people who have not sacrificed their careers, who Malcolm is using as his backing to say that the coalition is in agreement.”

Reid’s former teammate Colin Kaepernick, the first player to protest during the anthem, filed a grievance with the league earlier this year alleging that teams and possibly the league itself had either explicitly or implicitly colluded to keep him out of the NFL. Reid has written in the New York Times that he is “aware that my involvement in this movement means that my career may face the same outcome as Colin’s.” The 25-year-old safety will be a free agent after this season. As the Mercury News noted on Wednesday, his outspokenness could, at the very least, depress the value of any potential free agent contract he might sign. Even so, Reid says he will continue to kneel.

In addition to his concerns about the substance of the deal between players and the NFL, Reid also questioned its timing. He said Goodell initially told him and other players that the league could present a proposal to owners either now or in March. The latter timetable, Reid said, would have given the players plenty of time to hash out disagreements and have the proposal reviewed by legal representation.

“We [players] made an agreement that there would be task force that … would have all communications with the NFL,” Reid said. “Malcolm stepped outside of that task force, he had another communication with the NFL, then [earlier this week] he [came] back and [said], ‘We are ready to announce the partnership on Thursday.’ ”

Reid continued: “When he asked me if I would end the protest in exchange for the donation and to announce the partnership for the proposal on Thursday, I was like, ‘Dude, no.’ ”

Reid postulated that the urgency of the deal—and the pressure he sensed had been placed on Jenkins to accept it—might have to do with a scheduled Dec. 13 owners meeting that will reportedly be devoted to Goodell’s contract negotiations.

On Wednesday, a league source told Slate that any suggestion that the deal was somehow related to Goodell’s contract negotiations was “absurd.”

Reid also questioned whether the $89 million the NFL has pledged to social justice causes would be spent in a way that benefits the issues he cared about.

“It’s a charade,” Reid said. “It’s basically going to be an NFL Cares,” he added, referring to a league public service announcement campaign. ESPN reported last month that an early proposal for a league campaign around social justice issues involved “a request for a huge marketing budget.” As Deadspin put it on Thursday, this is a typical maneuver for the NFL. “That’s essentially what the league has done with its previous social causes like domestic violence, breast cancer, and CTE research, where, in each case, the NFL’s first interest appeared to be in running commercials touting how much the NFL cares,” Barry Petchesky wrote.

On Wednesday, ESPN laid out some details of the NFL’s proposed plan:

The agreement calls for national funds to be allocated accordingly: 25 percent to the United Negro College Fund; 25 percent to Dream Corps; and 50 percent to the Players Coalition, which has filed 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) paperwork for nonprofit status as a fiscally sponsored project. This week, the coalition hired The Hopewell Fund to oversee and advise the group, which hopes to work with grass-roots and nonprofit organizations.

Reid said it’s his understanding that the unallocated funds—apparently 50 percent of the total outlay—would be spent based on recommendations from a working group of players and league and team officials. That group would have 12 members, seven of whom would represent the interests of the league office or NFL teams. This, Reid said, would essentially allow that money to be controlled by the league.

Reid would like the NFL to spend money to address issues of racial inequality in the criminal justice system, lack of police accountability in brutality cases, and mass incarceration reform. Jenkins, too, has provided continual, fervent support for the causes.

Even if this deal between the Players Coalition and the league goes forward, Reid told Slate, he will continue to protest. He will do so even if it costs him his job, as appears to have happened to his friend Colin Kaepernick.

“I feel like I would be a hypocrite not to use my platform to speak up for people who are facing oppression in this country,” he said. “I did it and I still do it because I believe it’s worth letting people know that if we do this together, if we stand up together we can make change.”

“The end isn’t in sight in this country” when it comes to systematic oppression of minorities in the United States, he added. “So, for me, protesting is the only way I feel comfortable with saying I’m doing the right thing.”

*Correction, Nov. 30, 2017: This article originally misidentified Russell Okung’s current team as the Seattle Seahawks. It is the Los Angeles Chargers.

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