The NFL needs to institute a rule that protects players against retaliatory actions taken by owners and sponsors for protests like Colin Kaepernick's, the organizers of a rally in support of the quarterback write in a new letter to the NFL.
The letter, a copy of which was made available to BuzzFeed News, additionally calls on the league to establish — and fund — an independent race-focused watchdog inside the league office. “It is indisputable that long held racial beliefs are embedded in of the fabric of the NFL and many of these beliefs still govern who makes it to the field," the letter reads.
“We will not be silent as the NFL actively participates in the ostracization of Mr. Kaepernick," the letter reads. "This ostracization, we believe, is a retaliatory act of aggression against Mr. Kaepernick's protest of the American National Anthem during the 2016 NFL season.”
The NFL should push to protect players from "intimidation, ostracization, and exclusion by owners, sponsors, coaches, players, and staff," the letter reads. "Any team suspected of prohibiting or outright denying a player his rights shall be punished under the tampering guidelines set forth by the NFL,” under the proposal outlined in the letter.
Kaepernick remains unsigned — despite, as any number of commentators have pointed out, being at least worthy of a backup QB job in the NFL. ESPN recently published an instructive report: Using a scoring system to evaluate players, 50 NFL coaches and talent evaluators ranked the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback ahead of six potential starting quarterbacks this year. The report found, through anonymous conversations with nearly four dozen league officials at all levels, that there is an atmosphere around the league that Kaepernick would be signed if he were a similarly talented player playing a different position. The annual report also said people in the league are unsure if Kaepernick is serious about continuing his career, and that bringing in a player with starter-level talent to serve as a backup could complicate team dynamics.
In response to the overall situation, the group representing the coalition — Tamika Mallory, a cochair of the Women’s March; Symone Sanders, political commentator and strategist; the activist and Women's March cochair Linda Sarsour; and faith leaders Rev. Mark A. Thompson, Jamal Bryant, and Rev. Stephen A. Green — organized the rally outside of the NFL's Park Avenue headquarters designed to put pressure on the league to act stand in support.
The organizers of the protest say they have requested a meeting with Goodell.
A representative with direct knowledge of talks between the organizers and the league office said negotiations to meet with Goodell on Wednesday broke down. It's unclear if or when the meeting would happen.
"Our position is we represent a coalition of individuals and groups of sizable magnitude and have made a series of requests we believe merit their own meeting," a representative for the protesters told BuzzFeed News.
Reached by BuzzFeed News, a spokesperson for the NFL Players Association said, "DeMaurice Smith has spoken with civil rights leaders from Spike Lee, to the head of the NAACP, to congressional staff and others about working with Colin’s representatives and we have reached out to Colin as well. Our position has not changed from when he defended and supported Colin on the first day and stand ready to help and assist him in any way."
The group noted in its letter that change in the 1940s, when the NFL became racially integrated, was necessary then and now. "Today, we stand on the shoulders of Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, Roger Jessup, and the activists and journalists who not only demanded but fought for change."