Retired National Football League wide receiver Anquan Boldin’s social activism has deep personal roots. In October 2015, his cousin, Corey Jones, was shot and killed in an encounter with a plainclothes police officer. When the news came, Boldin, then with the San Francisco 49ers, was leaving the field and scheduled to make a post-game public appearance. His wife wouldn’t let him see his phone.
Later, after she told him what had happened, Boldin was numb. “I couldn’t understand … how my cousin lost his life.”
A series of police shootings of unarmed black men inspired Malcolm Jenkins, a safety for the Philadelphia Eagles, to meet with police and grassroots organizers, using his fame to “elevate the voices that often aren’t heard.”
New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis became interested in civil rights and activism while reading about Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X in high school. His success on the field has helped him “bring recognition to my community,” he said, and to the injustice he sees there.
Boldin, Davis, and Jenkins were part of a group of players who shared personal reasons for their activism and outreach in a conversation with Emily Bazelon, a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine, Friday at Harvard Law School. The discussion was part of “Changing the Conversation to Change Criminal Justice,” a conference sponsored by the School’s Bernard Koteen Office of Public Interest Advising, the Fair Punishment Project, and the Players Coalition, a nonprofit co-founded by Boldin and Jenkins in the wake of Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protests. Last year the group helped broker a deal in which the NFL agreed to provide close to $90 million to support community-focused initiatives.