Trump asks for clemency suggestions, NFL players demand change
On left, NFL player Malcolm Jenkins, who sent a response to Trump, when the President asked the NFL to recommend names of people that he should pardon. | Josh Reynolds/AP

Amid a firestorm of outrage and protest, Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday ending his administration’s barbaric policy of separating migrant children from their parents as they were detained for attempting to cross the U.S. Border.

Let’s not for one second even think that this is a crucial step in addressing our nation’s complex immigration laws. This order only ensures that entire families will be detained indefinitely by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The order instructs ICE officials to “maintain family unity” by detaining them together “where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources.”

“So we’re going to have strong—very strong—borders, but we’re going to keep the families together. I didn’t like the sight of the feeling of families being separated,” said Trump.

Keep in mind, this is the same Trump that asked protesting athletes to recommend people to pardon because “that’s what they’re protesting—people that they think were unfairly treated by the justice system…I understand that.”

Trump doesn’t get it. I’m not sure he would get anything if not for Fox and Friends. Were he to truly understand our unjust legal system, undocumented immigrants—human beings running for their lives; some out of fear, others longing for a new start to better provide for loved ones—would not be in cages. Children would not have been torn from their parents’ loving arms while they were detained and treated as violent criminals.

And this heinous mess—which Trump created—would not exist.

While playing up his role as savior of the republic this week, last week Trump mentioned that none of the NFL players he had invited to talk had taken him up on the offer and went on to scold them for “making $15 million a year” and mixing sports with politics.

Trump got his long-awaited response Thursday. It wasn’t a list of convicts’ names though, instead the players took to the New York Times opinion page to issue a declaration:

“[A] handful of pardons will not address the sort of systemic injustice that NFL players have been protesting,” wrote the players. “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 a few names, he hasn’t been listening to us.”

The op-ed was signed by three active NFL players—Doug Baldwin, Malcolm Jenkins, and Benjamin Watson, and NFL retiree Anquan Boldin, and was a clear response to Trump who was highly critical, at times degrading, of players’ activism and protests on the field while the national anthem is performed.

“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.”

In their letter, the players outlined concrete steps Trump’s administration could take to end injustice and cited his recent decision to grant clemency to Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old woman serving a life sentence for a nonviolent drug crime, as a good first step—calling for a blanket pardon “for people in that situation who have already served long sentences.”

Over 79,000 people are currently imprisoned for a drug offense; 13.5 percent are serving sentences of 20 years or more.

“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,” players wrote.

Players urged the release of any drug-related convicts over the age of 60 who had already served a large portion of their sentence,  and put forth a policy change they believe Trump and the Attorney General should consider: Eliminating life without parole sentences.

It is highly unlikely Trump would take time to consider those real-world solutions outlined in the letter, and end his crusade against players “desecrating” the flag by taking a knee.

The fight will continue.

Players ended their letter with a small, friendly reminder for Trump, “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.”


Al Neal
Al Neal

Award winning journalist Al Neal is PW associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World. He is a member of the Chicago News Guild, Society of Professional Journalists, Professional Photographers of America, National Sports Media Association, and The Ernest Brooks Foundation.