WASHINGTON — More than a dozen Ravens players and executives have written to U.S. Senate leaders urging passage of legislation they say would bring "much needed change" to the criminal justice system.
The First Step Act, pending in the Senate, has unusual bipartisan support in a Congress often divided on social issues. The measure, overwhelmingly passed by the House in May, aligns many NFL players on an issue with President Donald Trump — who criticized players last season for kneeling during the playing of the national anthem to protest racial inequality and police brutality.
The legislation would give judges greater latitude to depart from mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug violations, and would bolster rehabilitation programs.
Trump tweeted recently that the measure amounts to "really good criminal justice reform" and that it had a "true shot at major bipartisan support." It’s not certain the bill will be voted on in the lame-duck Senate as members negotiate possible changes.
The letter urging a vote was sent to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other senators. It was signed by Ravens Javorius Allen, Brandon Carr, Morgan Cox, Matthew Judon, Anthone Levine Sr., Chris Moore, C.J. Mosley, Justin Tucker and Brandon Williams. It also was signed by team president Dick Cass, general counsel Brandon Etheridge, community relations director Heather Darney and public relations vice president Chad Steele.
"Criminal justice reform is an issue that deeply affects our community in Baltimore, as well as the nation as a whole," the letter said. "Not only will this legislation strengthen our nation's criminal justice system, but it enjoys the backing of an incredibly diverse group of supporters."
The letter follows a September meeting in which U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin was invited to the team's headquarters in Owings Mills. Among those who met with the Maryland Democrat was Judon, who had earlier worn a black T-shirt during training camp emblazoned with the message: "More than 60% of prison populations are people of color." At the bottom of the shirt was a hashtag: "#endmassincarceration."
Judon said afterward that the meeting with Cardin — which also touched on racial and religious profiling — was empowering.
Cass said in a statement Tuesday that “the letter does speak for itself” and pointed to the meeting with Cardin, adding, “This letter follows up that discussion.”
“Our players continue their social justice efforts, which have included ‘ride-alongs’ with local police, visits with students and time spent at the Baltimore Juvenile Detention Center,” he said. “The players have funded a number of different projects in the community, one with the Baltimore school system that will be announced sometime soon.”
The legislation's broad aim is to minimize warehousing of prisoners and make it easier for inmates to succeed once released. While some law enforcement groups support the bill, others have expressed concern that the measure could release dangerous criminals back into society.
Cardin, who plans to sign on as a co-sponsor, said in a statement Tuesday that he is thankful that Ravens players and executives were committed "to policies that will build a more just nation for all of us. By using their public platform to support bipartisan criminal justice reform, they are giving hope to countless Americans in Baltimore and nationwide who are caught in an often unreasonable system."
Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen, also a Democrat, said people across the country "are speaking out about the need for criminal justice reform, and we welcome the Baltimore Ravens players and other members of the Raven organization who are adding their voices to this effort."
Van Hollen called the bill "an initial way to move forward on this vital issue" and said it has his "strong support."