Football games have been the site of politics and anti-racism protests before, but not like this. On Jan. 19, the NFL launched an ad for their "Inspire Change" campaign, featuring a story very personal to former NFL player Anquan Boldin. So, who is Corey Jones? He was Boldin's cousin, and the victim of a police shooting.
Ahead of the 2020 Super Bowl, which takes place on Feb. 2, the NFL released the one-minute ad which focuses on Jones' story. In October 2015, Jones, a black musician, was driving home from a gig in South Florida when his car broke down on an interstate off-ramp. Jones' brother and band mate attempted to fix the car, The Washington Post reported at the time, but they weren't able to do it. Jones decided to wait alone for a tow truck — but while waiting, he was shot and killed by plainclothes police officer Nouman Raja, who claimed he thought he was investigating an abandoned car. Raja claimed he identified himself as an officer, and that he shot Jones in self-defense after Jones allegedly pointed a gun at him. However, an audio recording captured by Jones' call to roadside assistance cast serious doubt on Raja's claim that he identified himself when he approached Jones.
In March 2019, a Florida jury subsequently found Raja guilty of manslaughter by culpable negligence and attempted murder, per The Washington Post, and a Palm Beach County judge sentenced Raja to 25 years in prison in April 2019. During Raja's trial, prosecutors in the case alleged Jones thought he was being robbed, prompting him to pull out a gun he had legally purchased just days before the shooting. Raja then proceeded to shoot Jones multiple times, fatally wounding him. Raja has declared he intends to appeal the sentence, according to a Jan. 27 report from the Sun-Sentinel.
To honor his cousin's memory, Boldin — a retired NFL wide receiver — narrated a commercial for the NFL, in which he calls attention to the league's "Inspire Change" campaign and his own work with the Players Coalition. In 2017, Boldin co-founded the Players Coalition with Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins to highlight criminal justice reform, police brutality, and other social justice issues. In the NFL commercial, which aired for the first time during the AFC Championship game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tennessee Titans on Jan. 19, Boldin recalls the night Jones was killed, and says he wants to honor his cousin's memory.
The commercial includes footage reenacting a police shooting, as well as clips of Jones' family grieving his death. Boldin narrates his memory of the night, and its aftermath. "There's just some things that are bigger than football," Boldin says in the video. "And I felt like starting the Players Coalition and effecting change in this country was one of those things."
According to Boldin's narration, the Players Coalition focuses on everything from police-community relations and education to economic advancement and criminal justice reform. "Had it not been for the work that we do, Corey's death would have been in vain," Boldin concludes. "The best way to inspire change, is to be it."
The commercial closes with a link to NFL's "Inspire Change" campaign, which showcases various conversations about social justice. As part of the campaign, the NFL also published a two-minute PSA on Jan. 22 featuring the family of Botham Jean, an unarmed black man who was killed in his own Dallas, Texas, apartment by an off-duty police officer in 2018. The officer who fatally shot Jean was convicted of murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The NFL is evidently making an attempt to highlight key social justice issues like police brutality, but this attempt is striking some people as ironic given the league's treatment of Colin Kaepernick. Starting in August 2016, Kaepernick — then a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers — began sitting on the bench or kneeling during the national anthem.
"I am not going to stand to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick told NFL media at the time. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way." In the NFL's Corey Jones commercial, Boldin notably made a similar comment, this time with the blessing of the NFL. Kaepernick became a free agent in 2017, but was not signed by any other teams. In October of that same year, Kaepernick filed a grievance against the NFL, alleging team owners were colluding to prevent him working. The grievance was settled in February 2019. Representatives for Kaepernick and the NFL did not respond to Elite Daily's request for comment. During Kaepernick's absence from the league, other players also began to kneel in protest to continue Kaepernick's work. Given all of this, the NFL's decision to capitalize on conversations that Kaepernick started is not sitting well with everyone.
It may be controversial, but efforts by people like Boldin to reframe the NFL's approach to social justice have resulted in a PSA about police brutality that will air during the biggest football event of the year. Kaepernick may not be playing in the league right now, but he, Boldin, and many other players have spent years taking action on social justice issues, and perhaps now they'll finally see some results.