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Alabama Appleseed gets NFL grant for criminal justice reform work

Smiling african girl sitting at desk in class room and looking at camera. Portrait of young black schoolgirl studying with classmates in background. Happy smiling pupil writing on notebook.

An Alabama nonprofit is one of six social justice organizations to have recently received a grant from the NFL’s Inspire Change initiative. 

The Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice in Montgomery was selected by a joint group of NFL players and owners to receive one of the grants, which the nonprofit will use toward the organization’s Fair Schools, Safe Communities campaign, which is working to dismantle the state’s schools-to-prison pipeline, according to the nonprofit’s website.  

“This grant is going to make a significant difference in our work for justice and equity in Alabama. Appleseed is a group of lawyers and research nerds so to get support from the NFL was a thrilling surprise for us,” said Carla Crowder, executive director of Alabama Appleseed, in a message to APR on Saturday. 

Anna Isaacson, senior vice president of Social Responsibility for the National Football League, told APR on Monday that the league works closely with the players coalition to identify groups that are making positive impacts in their communities. 

And so the players coalition actually brought forth, Alabama Appleseed to us. They had done a lot of work with them locally on the ground and suggested that they were an organization that we would really should really look into further as someone deserving of an Inspire Change social justice grant,” Isaacson said. 

Jon Nabavi, vice president of Public Policy & Government Affairs at the NFL, explained to APR that the league is listening to calls for action coming from within its own organization and from fans. 

“While we’re not an advocacy organization – we play football here at the NFL – It’s obviously of utmost importance to so many of our players, our folks internally here at the league, and many of our fans and our owners,” Nabavi said. 

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Nabavi pointed out that the NFL was the only sports league to have signed on to federal criminal justice reform legislation filed in the U.S. Congress during the last session. 

The NFL endorsed the bipartisan legislation called the First Step Act, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump on Dec. 21, 2018, and reduced federal mandatory minimum sentences for some low-level drug crimes. 

“I think what we recognize also is that the federally incarcerated population is is fractional compared to the amount of folks that are engaged with the criminal justice system at the state level,” Nabavi said. “So that’s where a lot of the work is going to be taking place, and this is a way for the players coalition and the league to further that commitment.” 

The NFL’s Inspire Change program is part of the league’s and the Player’s Coalition’s $90 million commitment to combating social inequality. The grant program, now in its second year, formed after league owners and players began working with one-another in late-2017 following player national anthem protests that began a year before seeking to bring attention to racial inequality. 

Separate from the NFL’s Inspire Change initiative, the Players Coalition is a group of current and former players “with the collective goal of MAKING AN IMPACT ON SOCIAL JUSTICE AND RACIAL EQUALITY at the federal, state and local levels through advocacy, awareness, education, and allocation of resources,” according to the nonprofit’s website.

Crowder expressed gratitude for the interest the Players Coalition is taking into Alabama’s prison crisis, and in the work the coalition will do with the Montgomery nonprofit.

“Appleseed is heartened by the fact that the prison crisis in Alabama is now on the radar of the Players Coalition. This incredible group of advocates is using their voices and their influence to shift policy and change lives. They are working to address systemic inequality and racism in this country and challenge mass incarceration,” Crowder said in a statement. “As we all know, Alabama is obsessed with football. So when football players care about an issue and become vocal, Alabamians pay attention.”

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“Already, the Players Coalition is making a difference in Louisiana, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, and Atlanta, and other places with NFL teams. But players with Alabama roots are interested in helping our reform efforts here, even though Alabama doesn’t have an NFL team. We think that says a lot about their commitment,” She said.


Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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