On Monday, the NFL announced its plans to support the Grassley-Durbin criminal justice reform bill. This bill, which was introduced and failed in 2015, was reintroduced on October 4th. It seeks to create a fairer system for prosecuting those with no level criminal offenses. It reduces mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent, low level drug offenses as well as removing the 3 strikes rule that would generally sentence a person to life in prison after they obtain a 3rd drug offense. The bill offers more flexibility to judges, giving them the means to distribute reduced sentences for those who commit low level crimes.
Other Controversies for the NFL
The support for the bill comes at a time when the NFL is fending off controversy regarding players kneeling during the national anthem in protest to police brutality and racial inequality. The protest started when former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat down during the anthem. He then moved to kneeling. Many other players followed his lead. President Trump has referred to the act as “disgraceful” stating that players who don’t stand for the national anthem should be fired. He criticized owners, calling them afraid of the players and urged them to take a stand on the issue. Public opinion on the matter is split although many veterans have expressed support for the protest. The owners are meeting to discuss whether or not standing during the national anthem will be mandatory for players. In the meantime, they are making their own statement by supporting the bill that seeks to create criminal justice.
An Issue of Importance
According to the Washington Post, NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart told reporters “we felt that this was an issue over the last months, as we have continued to work with our players on issues of equality and on issues of criminal-justice reform, that was surfaced for us, and we thought it was appropriate to lend our support to it.”
Fighting Racial Profiling
According to statistics, Caucasian and African Americans smoke cannabis in equal numbers. Despite this, the majority of cannabis related arrests go to black citizens. The disproportionate arrest rate is a grave concern in many states and cities across the country. For this reason, there are many cities including Nashville, Atlanta and New Orleans that have decriminalized cannabis in small quantities. In these cities, those caught with under an ounce of cannabis will receive a civil fine, the same as getting a parking ticket, as opposed to a criminal charge with jail time and a tarnished record. This is one aspect of racial inequality that may be remedied somewhat with this bill as it would give judges the right to hand down reduced sentences.
Unfortunately, the bill has been blocked somewhat and it’s unclear whether or not the NFL support will be enough to pull it through. There are Senate Republicans who have opposed the bill and Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to bring it to the floor. The NFL support behind this bipartisan bill may assist although it is too early to tell.