In a New York Times op-ed published Thursday, two former Ravens and current members of an advocacy group of NFL players urged President Donald Trump to address the “sort of systemic injustice” that players have protested.
Tight end Benjamin Watson, now with the New Orleans Saints, and wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who retired in 2017, along with Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin and Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, responded to Trump’s invitation last week to NFL players to submit recommendations for presidential pardons. The president had told Fox News that he had not "personally heard from one [player]. Because I don't know if [politics] is a real issue. I don't think it's a real issue."
The players, representing the Players Coalition, said pardons will go only so far.
“These are problems that our government has created, many of which occur at the local level,” they wrote. “If President Trump thinks he can end these injustices if we deliver him a few names, he hasn’t been listening to us.”
The players applauded Trump's decision to pardon Alice Johnson, whose life sentence for a nonviolent drug conviction was commuted, but urged the president to extend his clemency power to make a "real dent in the federal prison population."
“People like Alice Johnson, for example, should not be given de facto life sentences for nonviolent drug crimes in the first place,” they wrote. “The president could stop that from happening by issuing a blanket pardon for people in that situation who have already served long sentences.”
The four players told Trump to consider treating the issue of drug sentences "like the systemic problem it is, rather than asking professional football players for a few cases." They lamented the substantial elderly population in federal prisons and the lack of "compassionate release" applications, and suggested the elimination of life without parole for nonviolent offenses.
“These changes, if President Trump were to make them, would positively affect the lives of thousands of people and have a lasting beneficial effect on many more people in the future,” they wrote. “The president can implement these changes with his pardon power and other executive decisions. His ability to change the lives of people for the better is immense. We hope he uses it, not just for the few, but for the many.”
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Former Maryland and Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith joined other NFL players this morning in similar calls to action on Twitter, saying: "You guys have the power to change the county and truly make America the country that we know it can be."