The NFL and players are collaborating on a new initiative to publicize social justice efforts, the league announced on Tuesday, weeks after a wave of national anthem protests kicked off a wide-ranging discussion on how the NFL should handle political issues.
Dubbed “Let’s Listen Together,” the initiative is a result of lengthy negotiations between NFL executives and a group of player advocates led by Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins and former wide receiver Anquan Boldin. The campaign will be promoted through digital content, advertisements and social media.
"We are pleased to have developed a new initiative that focuses on creating meaningful solutions to improve our communities," said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. "In developing this plan, we have taken the lead from our players and are honored to join them in this work. Their work has deepened our understanding of the unique platform we have to help advance progress in a profound and unifying way."
NFL executives and player representatives held formal meetings last fall after President Donald Trump sharply criticized protests during the national anthem, which were first popularized during the 2016 NFL season by free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Prominent critics blamed the protests for the NFL’s declining viewership, while some sponsors, including Papa John’s Pizza, said the NFL’s handling of the protests had negatively impacted their business.
The NFL’s 32 owners have tabbed at least $89 million in funding for promotional efforts related to the “Let’s Listen Together” initiative, ESPN reported. The NFL does not explicitly require players to stand for the national anthem, and no policy changes are anticipated in tandem with the social justice campaign.
"The collaboration between the NFL and its players should be celebrated, as it's the first professional league or entity that has taken the concerns of its players and put resources behind it," Boldin said in a statement. "Our country has some real issues when it comes to social and racial equality that must be addressed. The only way these issues will get solved is to fight together."
Several NFL players, including Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman, and multiple owners, including Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank and Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, will sit on a governing committee for the initiative.
The campaign was announced on the same day that the NFL rejected a Super Bowl advertisement from American Veterans that called on players to stand for the national anthem.