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NFL Players Association Responds to Attacks on Free Speech

Tuesday, September 26th, 2017

After President Donald Trump and others attacked the free speech rights of athletes, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) responded to the president’s comments.

NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith said:

The peaceful demonstrations by some of our players have generated a wide array of responses. Those opinions are protected speech and a freedom that has been paid for by the sacrifice of men and women throughout history. This expression of speech has generated thoughtful discussions in our locker rooms and in board rooms. However, the line that marks the balance between the rights of every citizen in our great country gets crossed when someone is told to just “shut up and play.”

NFL players do incredible things to contribute to their communities. NFL players are a part of a legacy of athletes in all sports who throughout history chose to be informed about the issues that impact them and their communities. They chose—and still choose today—to do something about those issues rather than comfortably living in the bubble of sports. Their decision is no different from the one made by countless others who refused to let “what they do” define or restrict “who they are” as Americans.

No man or woman should ever have to choose a job that forces them to surrender their rights. No worker nor any athlete, professional or not, should be forced to become less than human when it comes to protecting their basic health and safety. We understand that our job as a union is not to win a popularity contest and it comes with a duty to protect the rights of our members. For that we make no apologies and never will.

NFLPA President Eric Winston said:

Our players are men who are great philanthropists, activists and community leaders who stand up for each other and what they believe in.

I am extremely disappointed in the statements made by the President last night. The comments were a slap in the face to the civil rights heroes of the past and present, soldiers who have spilled blood in countless wars to uphold the values of this great nation and American people of all races, ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations who seek civil progress as a means to make this country, and this world, a better place.

The divisiveness we are experiencing in this country has created gridlock in our political system, given voice to extreme, fringe beliefs and paralyzed our progress as a nation. Divisiveness breeds divisiveness, but NFL players have proven to unify people in our country’s toughest moments and we will continue to do so now.

We will not stop challenging others on how we can all come together to continue to make America the greatest country on earth.

This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO on September 26, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.

Community @Work: Beyond the Gridiron

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Kenneth-Quinnell_smallThe latest article in our Community section of the AFL-CIO @Work site takes a look at an innovative program from the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) and the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health that provides much-needed services to an often neglected segment of American society.

Sometimes, an unexpected moment can change the lives of thousands of people.

In 1996, NFL Players Association (NFLPA) member Nick Lowery, a Pro Bowl placekicker for the Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots and the New York Jets, was wrapping up his career and had an idea to create a football camp for Native American youths. He approached the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health and was told the plan needed a broader purpose that had to go beyond football.

He then bumped into a fellow former NFL player, running back Clark Gaines, on an airplane. Their conversation turned to Lowery’s project and the idea broadened into creating a sports and lifestyle camp for Native American youths. Within a year, the NFLPA, the Nick Lowery Youth Foundation and Johns Hopkins joined forces to create NativeVision, a program enabling professional athletes to mentor economically disadvantaged American Indian youths. Since then, more than 26,000 young people have been served by the program.

“NativeVision is magic,” says Allison Barlow, the associate director of the Johns Hopkins center that co-sponsors the program. “It springs from each person giving all they have of raw talents, passion and life story.”

The centerpiece of the year-round NativeVision program is the annual camp that attracts American Indian youths from around the country. Held in June on tribal lands, the NativeVision camps have involved the efforts of more than 60 professional athletes and coaches to date. The camp goes beyond sports and includes breakout sessions that promote discipline, teamwork, the pursuit of education and healthy lifestyles. Workshops aren’t limited to young people either; offerings include computer training, parenting, cooking, financial literacy, community service projects, arts and life skills for families of the youths and other community members.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on December 21, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

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