By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Two members of the Philadelphia Eagles have answered a challenge from the president.
Chris Long and Malcolm Jenkins, two of the most outspoken NFL players on social issues, took to Twitter on Thursday morning to respond to President Donald Trump’s request from two weeks ago for a list of names of “people that they think were unfairly treated by the justice system.”
In the latest chapter in what is now officially an ongoing clash between the Super Bowl champions and the President of the United States, Long and Jenkins both called on Trump to consider pardons for people serving life sentences for prison sentences for non-violent crimes.
“Mr. President, we should pardon those who have life without parole who have non-violent parole for non-violent offenses who have served a large portion of their time,” Jenkins said. “Currently, over half of the men and women sentenced to die in federal prison are there because of non-violent crimes — 30 percent of which are there for non-violent drug offenses. And as of 2013, nearly two-thirds of those people were black. Our system is not rehabilitative. There needs to be a focus on helping people become better contributing citizens when they do return to society, as well as provide the opportunity to re-enter at a reasonable time for non-violent offenses.”
Long focused his message on people who are serving sentences for marijuana-related offenses, now that marijuana has been legalized in 29 states.
“Mr. President, as of 2012, there were over 11,000 people sitting in federal prisons on marijuana-related offenses. It is now legal — recreationally and/or medicinally — in almost 30 states. There are people freely profiting off of it, as they should be. Yet still, there are thousands sitting in prison. Those people should be pardoned,” Long said. “There are also numerous cases of people sentenced to life without parole for non-violent drug crimes. They should not die in prison. And in most cases, people having served decades have done their time. They should go home.”
Trump’s request in early June went unanswered by NFL players, but more recent comments from Trump might have spurred a response.
“Maybe they called the staff; I have not personally heard from one,” Trump said last week. “I don’t think it’s a real issue. I don’t think it’s a real issue.”
The videos coincided with The New York Times running a story written by four NFL players: Jenkins, Doug Baldwin, Benjamin Watson and Anquan Boldin. Rather than submit a list of names of people who have been mistreated by the criminal justice system, the story sought to explain the underlying issues to the president.
“But a handful of pardons will not address the sort of systemic injustice that N.F.L. players have been protesting. These are problems that our government has created, many of which occur at the local level. If President Trump thinks he can end these injustices if we deliver him a few names, he hasn’t been listening to us,” the story said. “As Americans, it is our constitutional right to question injustices when they occur, and we see them daily: police brutality, unnecessary incarceration, excessive criminal sentencing, residential segregation and educational inequality. The United States effectively uses prison to treat addiction, and you could argue it is also our largest mental-health provider. Law enforcement has a responsibility to serve its communities, yet this responsibility has too often not met basic standards of accountability.”
The story continued: “These injustices are so widespread as to seem practically written into our nation’s DNA. We must challenge these norms, investigate the reasons for their pervasiveness and fight with all we have to change them. That is what we, as football players, are trying to do with our activism.”
Aware of Trump recently pardoning Alice Johnson (after a plea from reality TV star Kim Kardashian), the players called for widespread action for people in similar situations.
“Imagine how many more Alice Johnsons the president could pardon if he treated the issue like the systemic problem it is, rather than asking professional football players for a few cases,” the story said.
Clearly, the players’ message has been twisted and shaped by whichever side of whatever argument wanted to portray it. Despite the players stating clearly that they took knees during the national anthem as a means of protesting racial inequality and police brutality, the president has regularly criticized the players for outwardly disrespecting the military and the country. And after Trump suggested that all NFL owners should say “get that son of a bitch off the field” if a player ever protested, the increase in number of protesters was mostly a response to such a message from the president of the country.
As for pardons, the four players in the Times suggested that Trump could and should do the “morally right” thing and “order the release of any drug offender over the age of 60 whose conviction is not recent.”
“President Trump, please note: Our being professional athletes has nothing to do with our commitment to fighting injustice. We are citizens who embrace the values of empathy, integrity and justice, and we will fight for what we believe is right,” the story concluded. “We weren’t elected to do this. We do it because we love this country, our communities and the people in them. This is our America, our right.”
What has already been a polarizing issue throughout the country is now sure to live on a bit longer, as the players have clearly demonstrated that when challenged by the president, they’re more than capable of providing a forceful response.