Sports

NFL players' nonprofit launches PSA campaign addressing police misconduct

Key Points
  • A nonprofit for current and former NFL players is launching a new campaign addressing police misconduct and gun violence.
  • NFL ratings declined 8% in 2016, the same year Colin Kaepernick started his “take a knee” protest.
  • The league's sponsors include Amazon, Anheuser Busch, Visa, Marriott, and FedEx.
The family of slain Pace University student, DJ Henry, has formally filed a lawsuit against the police officer who fired the fatal bullets and his department. There were many signs like this posted on the street where his family lives in Easton, Massachusetts.
John Tlumacki | Boston Globe | Getty Images

The protests against police misconduct related to people of color have all but disappeared from the National Football League during its 100th season, but now a group of current and former players, who are members of the Players Coalition, are rekindling the conversation with an online social media campaign launched Wednesday morning.

The public service announcement is the first in a series of videos that will be released by "The Responsibility Program" over the next few weeks and this one highlights the story of an NFL-hopeful killed by police misconduct.

Racial equality and police misconduct are issues that deeply divided the NFL and its fans in 2016 and were seen as a factor in television ratings falling by 8% that season.

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began his now famous protest against racism and police brutality by "taking a knee" during the national anthem in the team's final preseason game before the start of the 2016 regular season. Since Kaepernick's initial actions, national anthem protests have proliferated across the NFL and even edged into other professional sports.

Danroy "DJ" Henry, a 20-year-old student athlete at Pace University in New York who was fatally shot by police in 2010, is the focus of the video released by the Players Coalition on social media platforms. Henry's parents narrate the nearly three-minute video chronicling the young man's life, his NFL aspirations and untimely death. Henry's mother, Angella, makes an emotional plea in the video, saying, "I don't want to assume that all police officers are bad. And I don't want people to assume that all young black men are bad … our son is everybody's son … we need to do more to create change."

The Players Coalition is a nonprofit founded in 2017 to address social justice and racial equality. Co-founder Malcolm Jenkins, a safety on the Philadelphia Eagles, said the campaign will highlight parents who lost children to police brutality and gun violence in several videos to be released this season.

This is just the latest in a series of advocacy initiatives that the coalition's members have taken over the past two years to impact social change.

"We have a responsibility to use our platforms to unite people and foster positive change in our communities, but we can't achieve that goal without education," Jenkins said in a statement to CNBC. "We want this PSA to generate productive dialogue between people of all backgrounds, so we can start to bridge the communication gap and work together to end these injustices."

It's not clear what impact this new Players Coalition campaign could have on the NFL or its sponsors this season.

The NFL launched a similar social change initiative in January 2019 focusing on criminal justice reform, police and community relations and economic and educational advancement.

Infamously, Papa John's founder and former CEO John Schnatter said fans turned off by the protests during the 2016 and 2017 seasons were leading to sluggish pizza sales during the games. On a November 2017 earnings call, the now-ousted Schnatter said that "NFL leadership has hurt Papa John's shareholders" and that the protests "should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago."

Shortly after those comments, the company's sponsorship deal with the NFL came to an end. Months later, Schnatter was replaced after making racially charged comments during a conference call.

In 2017, other sponsors including Nike, Anheuser-Busch, Under Armour and Ford issued statements supporting "freedom of speech" without directly referencing the protests.

According to the NFL website, Amazon, Visa, Marriott and FedEx are just some of the league's current sponsors.

In mid-July of last year, the NFL and NFL Players Association announced in a joint statement that the league and team policies regarding conduct during the playing of the national anthem would not be issued or enforced for several weeks as part of a standstill agreement between the two sides.

That policy, which remains on hold under the standstill agreement, came on the heels of a grievance filed by the NFL Players Association on July 10, 2018. In its grievance, the union stated, among other things, that the policy was changed without consulting the Players Association and infringes on player rights.

So far, the NFL's ratings rebound shows no signs of slowing for the current 2019 season. The league's viewership is up around 5% compared to the same time last year, according to Nielsen data. Week 1 NFL game telecasts of the current season averaged roughly 16 million viewers across the league's network partners.

CNBC reached out to the NFL for comment but did not receive a response.

UPDATE: This story was updated to provide additional background about an agreement the NFL reached with the NFL Players Association regarding conduct during the playing of the national anthem. It also provided an update regarding this season's football ratings.

Correction: The video was released by "The Responsibility Program," and is the first of many PSAs will unveil over the next few weeks.

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