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Anquan Boldin: ‘We see teams competing to make a difference in the community’

The co-founder of the Players Coalition on the first year of their NFL deal

Although Anquan Boldin last played in the NFL in 2016, this season has been incredibly rewarding for him.

These days, the former Pro Bowl wide receiver finds fulfillment from his work with the Players Coalition. The coalition is the main group that negotiated with the NFL on behalf of players who protested during the national anthem to shine a light on police brutality and systemic oppression. After former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick ignited a movement by first sitting and then kneeling during “The Star-Spangled Banner” more than two years ago, Boldin and Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, co-founders of the coalition, picked up the ball and advanced it.

Boldin and Jenkins helped negotiate an unprecedented partnership with the NFL in 2018 to address social justice issues. The coalition and NFL have focused their efforts on attempting to reform the nation’s criminal justice and education systems.

While the union hasn’t been without controversy, Boldin, who is busy with coalition business during the run-up to the Super Bowl, told The Undefeated he’s proud of what the group is building.

ATLANTA — With something like this, with something that has never happened before, the change will be more gradual than instant. But if you look at the NFL and the number of teams that have now paid attention to issues of equality and criminal justice reform, I mean, it’s unprecedented. You now have teams that are actually competing with one another to see who can do the most work when it comes to helping improve lives in the community. We see teams competing to make a difference in the community. We see that work that’s being done each day. That’s a great thing.

You’ve seen guys who have been on the biggest stage be part of the coalition and also succeed on the field. [Patriots safety] Devin McCourty has been a guy who has played in the Super Bowl. Last year with the Eagles, Malcolm [Jenkins], Chris Long and Torrey Smith. Demario Davis had a big year with the [New Orleans] Saints, and they were in the NFC Championship Game. So the notion that you can’t be active in your communities and be successful on the field, I mean, that’s actually the furthest from the truth.

Now, did I know it would definitely happen? Did I know it would happen in such a big way and so quickly? It was something we were hoping for. It was something we put a lot of work into to try to make happen. But we definitely didn’t think it would come as soon as it did. We never could have started out saying that we knew it would happen because this, like I said, is unprecedented in sports.

There wasn’t a past model we could follow to kind of determine how long it would take to get to any level. We were doing this as we went along, so you just have to put in the work, hope and see what happens. So this far in, now we see what the work is producing. We know there’s so much more work to do, but we see results.

For us over time, this was always the vision. But to see it so quickly is what makes you feel good. That’s really the shocker of it for all of us. When we talk about those first meetings where we discussed trying to do something to help in the community, trying to really address these issues that we’re out here dealing with now, naturally you think about trying to build something. You’re really just starting out with an idea and trying to get to a place where the ideas make sense.

It was a thought of ours to try to get everybody involved. That was the goal. That was the objective: to try to get everybody to care about the things that we care about. To be honest with you, we didn’t think that would happen. We thought that if we could get X number of teams to buy in, well, that would be good. We thought that getting some teams, no matter how many, to work with us in doing this work that’s so important to us … then that would be good. That would be some progress. But to get the number of teams that we’ve been able to get, to get the whole league, that has been great.

But we also have to look at the dynamic of, and I think we underestimate this as a society, the number of African-American guys that make up the NFL. The league is [almost 70 percent African-American]. And [a large] number of those guys actually care about their communities. Sometimes, or a lot of times, those stories don’t get reported.

Whenever there’s something negative with a player, it seems those things get reported. That stuff always seems to have a place in the media. Everybody is all over those stories. But when guys are really out there in the community and trying to help people improve their lives, really trying to make a difference in a positive way, doing their part … it just seems like, at least in the past, those stories aren’t [covered] as much as some other things.

In the past, guys have had their own foundations. In the past, guys have been doing their own charity work in the community. So those good stories were out there too. That stuff just didn’t get covered enough. But when you look at the concerns guys have when it comes to racial equality, justice for all, criminal justice reform … I think guys are as passionate about that as they were with their individual foundations. So what we’ve come together to do, what we plan to keep doing, it’s definitely something you’re proud about. But you know there’s still so much ahead to be done.

Liner Notes

Over a 14-year NFL career, Boldin caught 1,076 passes for 13,779 yards (which ranks 14th in league history) and 82 touchdowns. He played a key role in the Baltimore Ravens’ run to a Super Bowl championship after the 2012 season. In four playoff games that season, Boldin caught 22 passes for 380 yards (a 17.3-yard average) and four touchdowns.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at Andscape. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.