The following letter was sent to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on October 17, 2017.
Dear Commissioner Goodell:
As you know, our Nation has witnessed a growing divide due to the frustration and injustices felt by some of our fellow citizens. NFL players across the league have taken a knee as part of their First Amendment right to protest in the effort to invoke change. I am writing to you because I believe the National Football League is in a unique position to make a difference and effect change in this controversy.
The NFL, including players, owners and the League itself, can create an atmosphere of cooperation and understanding by encouraging and facilitating useful and effective community conversations. Your players have a special position in the communities in which you have teams; they are admired by so many people, many of whom are part of the affected communities. If they work together with law enforcement officials and members of the affected communities, they may be able to help bridge the gap between police and minorities that no one else is stepping forward to fill at this time.
Strongly encouraging players to stand during the Anthem will not change the opinions of those who protest. Building strong community and police relationships must go beyond publicly locking arms before a game. Community conversations cannot be a “one-and-done situation.” They will require a commitment from the NFL owners and players, along with police departments, elected officials, businesses, and community organizations. Conversations must continue until solutions are developed and implemented. The NFL can do this. I know the Nation will commend you if you take this step.
There is a precedent for this type of discussion. In December 2015, Ohio Governor John Kasich appointed a Task Force on Community-Police Relations. I was a member. The Task Force membership included elected officials, law enforcement and members of the community. We met for several months, accepting testimony from hundreds of Ohio’s citizens, law enforcement officials and others who wanted to be heard. We made several important recommendations, and many were adopted by the state and local governments. Perhaps our most important work was allowing people to be heard and promoting dialogue between communities and law enforcement. This Nation can be strengthened if we pursue this across our land. And—I cannot overemphasize this—the NFL is one of the few institutions that could achieve this.
The protests across the league should not have been started in vain, and I hope you will lead them to a satisfactory conclusion. As your father said during other difficult times, “[we must] defuse the tensions now threatening the lives and property of urban Americans.” As Commissioner of the NFL, you have the opportunity to lead the efforts to defuse those tensions and help people in need by partnering with communities.
I know the nationwide network of Community Action Agencies, which was also supported by Senator Goodell, will be happy to support your efforts to build local partnerships and create solutions to have a greater community impact. At least in Ohio, we have experience hosting community dialogues on poverty and its difficult issues. Regardless if you partner with us or not, you are in a position to make a real and lasting difference. I hope you do.
Philip E. Cole
CC: Mr. and Mrs. Jimmy and Dee Haslam, Cleveland Browns
Mr. Michael Brown, Cincinnati Bengals