A group of socially conscious NFL players wrote an op-ed published Thursday by the New York Times responding to Trump’s glib call for suggestions on whom he should pardon next. But instead of a list of names, representatives of the Players Coalition offered Trump ideas of things he can do to begin reforming the criminal justice system.
Earlier this month, at the behest of Kim Kardashian, Trump pardoned 63-year-old former drug dealer Alice Johnson, who was serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Trump, who has been at war with protesting NFL players over the last two years, asked them two weeks ago if they had any suggestions for other pardon candidates.
“I told the NFL players indirectly, I said you have somebody — they’re saying people are aggrieved,” Trump said two weeks ago. “Let me know about it I will look at it. If they’re aggrieved I will pardon them.”
Current and former NFL players Doug Baldwin, Anquan Boldin, Malcolm Jenkins and Benjamin Watson answered Trump with an explanation of how he can use his Presidential power to help fix the problem of mass incarceration and too-tough sentencing. Watson also posted a video to Twitter offering similar suggestions.
Former Jets running back Tony Paige also sent Trump a letter last week asking for clemency for his nephew Marcus Paige, serving 25 years for second-degree murder.
But the Players Coalition members defiantly pledged to the man who referred to any player who takes a knee for the national anthem as a “son of a bitch” that they would continue to fight for the rights of less fortunate people out of their love of country.
“President Trump, please note: Our being professional athletes has nothing to do with our commitment to fighting injustice,” they wrote. “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.”
The op-ed also explains why players protest injustice and offer ideas on how Trump if he’s serious, can help their cause.
“He could use his powers, including the clemency power, to make a real dent in the federal prison population,” they wrote. “People like Alice Johnson, for example, should not be given de facto life sentences for nonviolent drug crimes in the first place. The president could stop that from happening by issuing a blanket pardon for people in that situation who have already served long sentences.”
The players also point out that about half the federal prison population is there for drug offenses, many of which carry sentences of more than 20 years.
“Imagine how many more Alice Johnsons the president could pardon if he treated the issue like the systemic problem it is, rather than asking professional football players for a few cases,” they wrote.
The op-ed also notes that by next year, elderly inmates will make up 28 percent of the federal prison population.
“Releasing these prisoners would pose little to no risk to society,” they wrote. “President Trump could order the release of any drug offender over the age of 60 whose conviction is not recent. That would be the morally right thing to do.”
Instead of going on a pardoning spree, the players also urged Trump to implement policies with the attorney general to do things like eliminating life without parole for nonviolent crimes. Under the current system, upwards of 30 percent of federal life sentences (or de facto life) are for nonviolent drug crimes, they wrote.
“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.”