Some of the principles that define the Philadelphia Eagles on and off the field include, respect, teamwork, passion and unity.
This community-oriented mindset is especially apparent in the Eagles Social Justice Fund, established through an agreement between the NFL and the new Players Coalition founded in 2017 that allows teams to set up their own funds in support of social issues like racial, economic and educational inequality.
While NFL team funds support a broad array of causes that aim to alleviate struggles faced by marginalized populations, the Players Coalition has placed a large focus on criminal justice reform, as recently demonstrated by the Eagles. The day before Thanksgiving, the team helped bail nine people out of jail through a $50,000 donation to the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund comprised of direct player contributions and a match from the team fund.
The Eagles are not shy about their motives and make a convincing case against cash bail, particularly in Philadelphia which has the fourth highest incarceration rate of the 50 largest U.S. cities, with most individuals behind bars still awaiting trial. Further, for those found guilty, nearly four out of 10 are not even sentenced to incarceration. Eagles safety and Players Coalition Co-Founder Malcolm Jenkins is particularly outspoken in his opposition.
“The cash bail system punishes poverty and … punishes people of color at a grossly disproportionate rate,” Jenkins said. “Some people say we need the system to make our community safe — but as you can see here with these groups, we have everything we need to make our community safer, when we decide to invest in people and wrap our arms around people, as opposed to locking them up.”
Other ways the Eagles Social Justice Fund is doing its part for the community is by supporting youth and adult education and mentorship programs, including the Police Athletic League (PAL), United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey and Philadelphia Opportunities Industrialization Center which focuses on workforce development.
On November 26, days after bailing out the nine defendants, Jenkins and the Players Coalition spearheaded an event in partnership with the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund, the Defender Association of Philadelphia and Impact Services, inviting the defendants to connect with rehabilitation services offered by local community organizations.
Youth programs like PAL can also help stop what is known as the “school-to-prison pipeline,” which the American Civil Liberties Union describes as the process where public schools criminalize relatively minor student behavioral issues through zero-tolerance disciplinary policies, resulting in students of color entering the juvenile and criminal justice systems at alarmingly disproportionate rates. Annually, 40 percent of students expelled from schools are black, in a nation where those who identify as black make up just 14 percent of the total population.
Through their high level of civic engagement and collaboration with existing community leaders to tackle issues at the root and reform inequitable systems, the athletes leading the Players Coalition and Eagles Social Justice Fund are determined to use their platforms to create lasting social change and build a better world devoid of unjust pain and suffering.