With unprecedented support from across the three major professional sports leagues, the Players Coalition submitted a letter to Congress on Wednesday morning supporting passage of the Amash-Pressley bill, which would end qualified immunity for police officers and other government officials.
More than 1,400 players, coaches and executives signed their names to the letter, among them quarterbacks Tom Brady and Drew Brees, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., NBA coaches Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich, NBA guard J.J. Redick, MLB outfielders Matt Kemp and Giancarlo Stanton, and retired pitcher CC Sabathia.
The Coalition stated that passage of the bill would help restore public trust in government by ending qualified immunity for state and local officials -- including police -- who violate "clearly established" constitutional rights of citizens.
"You see what's going on in the world today, and we're trying to get (that) changed," said Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett. "Obviously, this would be a stepping stone in the right direction."
Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine in federal law that shields government employees from civil liability for actions taken in an official capacity unless the action clearly violates a constitutional right based on a prior identical case. In other words, these individuals cannot be sued unless a court finds a nearly identical prior case or context in which a person was held liable. For instance, last year a federal appeals court dismissed a $2 million civil case against a deputy sheriff who shot to death a 10-year-old when aiming for the family dog. The officer was accused of using excessive force, but the court ruled it could not find a "materially similar case" and refused to hear the case.
The Amash-Pressley bill, also known as the Ending Qualified Immunity Act, was introduced by U.S. Representatives Justin Amash (L-Mich.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.). The bill would close what has been called an escape hatch for government officials to avoid civil suits in federal court.
"Now is the time for accountability and a call to action," Saints linebacker Demario Davis wrote to legislators. "This letter to Congress is the first step we are taking on a national level. We hope this letter and the bill it represents will send a signal to the Supreme Court that we need a better justice system in place. Our work at the state and local levels will continue to be equally important. The Players Coalition has been out front on these issues for years now, and we will continue to lead the charge for policing and criminal justice reform."
The Coalition has come a long way since 2016, when the roots of the organization formed with five NFL players traveling to Capitol Hill to discuss racial inequality and criminal justice reform with legislators. In the four years since, it has grown to some 150 members and countless supporters across the three major professional sports leagues, many of them seeking an outlet to help fight systemic racism and police brutality against people of color, most recently following the killing of George Floyd beneath the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.
"It's sad to hear and see, but metaphorically you look at George Floyd's death and how they held their knee on his neck until he couldn't breathe, and that's how it's kind of been for us all around," said Vikings running back Alexander Mattison, who is African American. "With Black Lives Matter, it's kind of been like people having a knee and foot on our neck. People say, 'You guys are celebrities, you have power' and this and that, but you take Colin Kaepernick, for example -- you see firsthand how somehow sticking up for something they believe in, what it can do to you in the sports realm."
Kaepernick, who silently protested racial inequality and police brutality against people of color by kneeling during the national anthem in 2016, has not been signed by a team since. Although many players supported him privately four years ago, they remained largely silent in public and did not participate in his protest.
But players have been particularly vocal this year. At least four prominent white quarterbacks spoke out against systemic discrimination within days of Floyd's death. And overall, players have used their social media platforms to voice their feelings, a dramatic departure from four years ago.
"We've had enough," Mattison said. "Before, guys were scared to lose their jobs, scared of being fined, all of that. Now, it's kind of a thing where, if you're going to fine one of us, you're going to fine all of us. If you're going to get rid of one of us, you're going to get rid of all of us. There is strength in numbers. It's bigger than just black people saying this. This is a problem in the world that we're looking at. Everybody is coming together. They're stepping up and letting their voice be heard."
To read the Players Coalition's full letter to Congress, click below: