NFL, players reach deal on supporting activism but protests during national anthem could continue

Charles Robinson
NFL columnist

NFL team owners and a coalition of players seeking social justice reform and racial equality reached a tangible financial partnership. But the deal won’t guarantee the one thing NFL owners sought since the start of the 2017 NFL season: a definitive end to protests during the national anthem.

Owners and a contingent of players reached an agreement Wednesday night that would commit at least $89 million to national and local community efforts, and social justice reform initiatives through 2023. The funds are expected to be spread out in a multitude of ways, with portions dedicated to Dream Corps and the United Negro College Fund. A sizable portion of the money will also be controlled for disbursement by the Players Coalition, which is seeking nonprofit status and has begun to build out a structure to become a fully functioning charity controlled by players.

The 49ers’ Eric Reid says he is no longer with the Players Coalition. (AP)

While the deal qualifies as a type of win for both the players and owners, it didn’t come without some significant loose ends. Chief among them is that the Players Coalition could not guarantee to team owners that protests will be completely discontinued across the league. The coalition has no binding power over the league’s players and cannot influence any remaining protests that continue in the coming weeks or seasons. However, two sources told Yahoo Sports that it’s expected the vast majority of the 40-plus players represented by the coalition will cease forms of protest in the coming weeks.

Those ranks apparently won’t include San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid, Miami Dolphins safety Michael Thomas and Los Angeles Chargers offensive lineman Russell Okung. Each pulled out of the coalition this week after disagreements arose regarding the negotiation of the deal and what it means for the social activism of some players going forward.

Sources familiar with the negotiations between the players and NFL over the past few weeks said the Players Coalition was riddled with disagreements – many coming from Reid – ranging from the role of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick; to the use of the mediator in negotiations; to the structure and leadership of the coalition itself. And now, as one source pointed out Wednesday night, there are concerns over who will have the final say over the decisions and distribution of funds.

The concerns stem from one point: the representation of a working group of 12 individuals who will drive the financial initiatives forward and have a significant amount of control over the pool of money and how it is used. As it is written, the group will be comprised of five players, five owners (or their consiglieres), and two representatives with the league office. In effect, that group suggests the balance of decisions will belong to the NFL and not the players because the league will have a 7-5 advantage in representation within the group.

It remains to be seen if that imbalance represents a problem – not to mention if a smattering of likely continued protests irks owners who are earmarking money to activism efforts. But one thing is certain: the striking of a deal will provide an appearance that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was able to pull together an agreement.

Along with the reality that millions are being directed toward players’ initiatives, Goodell may have some momentum at his back when owners meet in December to discuss his next contract extension. That owners-only meeting is slated to take place on Dec. 13 in Irving, Texas. It’s believed the NFL’s compensation committee wants to have the details of Goodell’s contract extension finalized prior to that meeting – although there is no guarantee that happens.

But with a likely downturn in anthem protests expected the next two weekends due to this latest deal, Goodell may have at least one less piece of unfinished business to explain.

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