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NFL’s “Let’s Listen Together” sounds good, in theory

If you can get past the whiplash of the NFL taking credit for doing something they seemed to be fighting the last two years, they might be doing a good thing now.

The league has announced a joint player and owner project called “Let’s Listen Together,” which will publicize players’ work toward social justice causes and racial equality.

The press release is the culmination of the seven-year plan which earmarked $89 million to go toward player causes, after a series of meetings last fall. While that sounds like a big check, it works out to $400,000 per team per year.

At this point, let’s let the league’s words speak for themselves. With an all-caps headline blaring: “NFL BUILDS ON COMMITMENT TO SOCIAL JUSTICE,” they rolled out their best corporate PR-speak to tell you how great the plan is.

“As part of its ongoing work to support its players, the NFL today announced a joint player and ownership commitment focused on social justice,” the release reads. “The campaign, Let’s Listen Together, launches today and includes a multi-layered roll-out including digital content and brand spots highlighting the player-led work on social and racial equality. The platform will also include social media support, as well as individual letters from players and owners sharing their stories and personal reasons for making social justice a priority.”

A few things here. One, Colin Kaepernick’s football career is spinning in its grave at the thought of the league’s well-built commitment to social justice, since his peaceful protest of racial inequality and police brutality has led to a de facto blackballing from the sport. Two, the portion of the $1 million Kaepernick has donated (despite the lack of a paycheck) to a Minneapolis urban farm can’t create the kind of word salad the league just tossed there.

But if you can get past that, the league seems to be doing two of the things the league does best — create marketing campaigns and committees.

The working group committee for the campaign includes Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill, Falcons owner Arthur Blank, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, Jaguars owner Shad Khan, and Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, along with Jets tackle Kelvin Beachum, retired wide receiver Anquan Boldin, Jets quarterback Josh McCown, Washington cornerback Josh Norman and Hall of Famer Aeneas Williams.

Once you get past any initial skepticism, the league has the opportunity to use its incredible platform to do some good. There are loads of players doing real work in real communities to try to bring people together. Highlighting the good cannot be a bad thing, despite everything the league and its owners did to try to quiet voices who were trying to bring attention to the exact same causes.

With the league’s owners making it very clear last fall that they wanted their players standing for the national anthem through measures overt and unspoken, it’s also hard to accept at face value the NFL’s “commitment to social justice.” When the President stepped into the fray and started slinging mud at them, it made it seem clear that their first priority was making the noise go away.

And if throwing some money and some production at the problem convinces people they’re sincere, then their plan will have worked.