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NFL players lobby Congress for criminal justice reform

Molly Wood Mar 30, 2017
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NFL players Anquan Boldin and Malcolm Jenkins have twice lobbied Congress for criminal justice reform.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Whether it’s Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the anthem, or  the NCAA pressuring North Carolina to change HB 2, the “bathroom bill,” one thing is clear: professional athletes have political leverage. This week, several NFL players are eschewing any middle man and going straight for the source on Capitol Hill. Their goal: lobbying Congress on issues like criminal justice reform and police-community relations. Marketplace guest host Molly Wood spoke with NFL players Anquan Boldin and Malcolm Jenkins about their efforts in Washington, D.C. Below is an edited transcript of their interview. 

Molly Wood: Now this is your second time lobbying for criminal justice reform in D.C., and I know that both of you have a history working with youth development and under-served communities. What made you decide lobbying, actually coming to Capitol Hill lobbying for policy change, was the best way to support your causes?

Anquan Boldin: We just figured out that, No. 1, the power the NFL players have. No. 2, the platform that is afforded to us because of what we do. And who better to get in front of to advocate for change than senators and congressmen?

Wood: And so you’re working on criminal justice reform, Malcolm, What would you say are your top priorities?

Malcolm Jenkins: One of the things that we wanted to do is not only come here and voice our concerns of the system as it stands, but find out what are some things that are already being done, and that we can lend our support to. So some of those policies that have had bipartisan support for whatever reason hadn’t been pushed through, like the Second Chance Act. Like the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. Both of those have components that either reduce mandatory minimums, that help in reforming the criminal justice system and have bipartisan support but for whatever reason hadn’t been pushed through. And with the new administration, we want to make sure that this is actually part of the agenda and this is a high priority.

Boldin: I think we all agree that in order to get anything done here in Washington, it has to be bipartisan. So we’re trying to figure out what bills have the support of both parties so that we can help push those along, because, I mean, just to be honest, there isn’t one thing that we have to attack when it comes to criminal justice reform.

Wood: Well, let’s talk a little bit about the power of the professional athlete, because I think we’ve seen just in the last couple of years an increase. There’s obviously Colin Kaepernick, there’s the NBA pulling the all-star game out of North Carolina. There’s you guys doing this very public lobbying effort. Does this represent a little bit of a change, do you think? Are athletes starting to come into their power as social influencers?

Boldin: I think guys are understanding the responsibility that they have, not only as athletes but as citizens. And I think this is becoming important to us because we’re affected by it. I think there’s a lot of athletes out there that have a lot to say. I think there’s a lot of athletes out there who want to be heard. I think there are a lot of athletes out there that want to see change. Just because we’re athletes don’t mean we’re exempt from the problems in this society. We have to live in this society, and we want to see it be the best society that it can be.

Jenkins: When you look at the NFL, the NBA, the makeup of the demographics of those two entities, the majority of them are African-American. And so when you look at the criminal justice system, and how it disproportionately affects the African-American community, these are all concerns that most of these players are dealing with, either directly or indirectly through either their own personal experience or family or friends that that are still in these communities. So I think it’s like he said, it’s a responsibility for us to use our platforms. And I think Anquan and Colin Kaepernick continue to push and show the rest of the athletes just how far our reach is and how much leverage we have. And I think the more guys that recognize that, the more activism you’ll see from athletes. 

Wood: Anquan Boldin and Malcolm Jenkins, thank you so much.

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