A group of NFL players responded Thursday to President Donald Trump's challenge that they present him with a list of people who have been unfairly treated by the justice system and should be pardoned.
Players Coalition leaders Doug Baldwin, Anquan Boldin, Malcolm Jenkins and Benjamin Watson penned an op-ed piece that was published in The New York Times. They also were among several NFL players who produced short video pleas on social media, asking for Trump to change policies that have led to overly long sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.
Players credited Trump for recently commuting the life sentence of 63-year-old Alice Marie Johnson, a nonviolent drug offender who had served more than 20 years in prison, after celebrity Kim Kardashian West helped plead her case.
But as Boldin said in his video, "There are a lot of people out there like Ms. Johnson that should be pardoned that don't know a celebrity or a NFL player."
"A handful of pardons will not address the sort of systemic injustice that N.F.L. players have been protesting," the letter to the New York Times read. "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.
"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.
"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."
The letter included statistics on the percentage of people incarcerated in the United States for drug-related crimes, and how many of them had sentences of 20 years or more. Players also wrote that the elderly will make up more than 28 percent of the federal prison population by next year and suggested that Trump "could order the release of any drug offender over the age of 60 whose conviction is not recent."
Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long also pointed out in his video plea that marijuana is now legal recreationally or medicinally in nearly 30 states, yet thousands of people remain in prison for marijuana-related offenses. Long said many of them should be pardoned.
Trump, who has been in a public battle with NFL players who have chosen to protest through demonstrations during the pregame national anthem, issued his challenge to players earlier this month after the Eagles' scheduled visit to the White House as Super Bowl champions was cancelled.
"You have a lot of people in the NFL in particular ... they're not proud enough to stand for our national anthem. I don't like that," Trump said, adding that "it's all talk, talk, talk" from the players.
"I'm gonna ask them to recommend to me people that were unfairly treated [by the justice system], friends of theirs or people that they know about," Trump said. "And I'm gonna take a look at those applications. And if I find -- and my committee finds -- that they were unfairly treated, then we will pardon them or at least let them out."
Players ended their letter by saying, "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. 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.
"We intend to continue to challenge and encourage all Americans to remember why we are here in this world. We are here to treat one another with the kindness and respect every human being deserves. And we hope our elected officials will use their power to do the same."