Not every person who signed the petition organized by the Players Coalition to endorse the Ending Qualified Immunity Act is an NFL player, and not every NFL player’s name is on it. But there are a ton of them, more like many tons, and that weight is both literal and figurative.
The more consequential figures from the league include Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Jarvis Landry and Calais Campbell. There are Pro Football Hall of Famers Kurt Warner and Aeneas Williams. There are NBA champion basketball coaches Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich. There are NBA players and Major League Baseball players.
All are in favor of a bill in the House of Representatives created by Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Justin Amash of Michigan that seeks to end the “qualified immunity” protection afforded to government officials “from being held personally liable for constitutional violations — like the right to be free from excessive police force — for money damages under federal law so long as the officials did not violate clearly established law,” as the website Lawfare explained this week. The bill has 16 co-sponsors.
The Players Coalition, launched by former NFL star Anquan Boldin and the Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins in 2017, collected the endorsements of more than 1,100 athletes and coaches and more than 300 front-office personnel from professional teams in support of the bill.
“We demand accountability for police brutality,” the group’s Twitter accounted stated. “It’s time for a change.”
The qualified immunity concept became firmly established in 1967 following a Supreme Court case but increasingly was used in relation to police abuse cases within the past 15 years.
A special report from Reuters declared that increased availability of body-camera video or cellphone videos has not been able to counteract the influence of the qualified immunity “under the careful stewardship of the Supreme Court” on legal action against police officers when citizens are killed or injured by their actions.
“Qualified immunity protects police and other officials from consequences even for horrific rights abuses,” Amash said in a statement posted on his website. “It prevents accountability for the ‘bad apples’ and undermines the public’s faith in law enforcement. It’s at odds with the text of the law and the intent of Congress, and it ultimately leaves Americans’ rights without appropriate protection. Members of Congress have a duty to ensure government officials can be held accountable for violating Americans’ rights, and ending qualified immunity is a crucial part of that.”
In addition to the legislative action, NPR reports, two Supreme Court justices — Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas — have called for a review of the qualified immunity doctrine. The high court has eight such cases pending and could decide to hear any or all of them and revisit qualified immunity, which Thomas has written was wholly invented by the courts without a basis in history.
Brees’ appearance on the petition is especially notable, given that a week ago he was criticized for his stance on peaceful demonstrations that coincide with the playing of the national anthem, such as Colin Kaepernick genuflecting while a member of the San Francisco 49ers.
Brees was widely and harshly criticized by many NFL players, including some teammates, and by a number of media commentators. After apologizing, he then criticized President Donald Trump for construing the Kaepernick-style protests as being disrespectful to the military. Now, he has come out in favor of ending qualified immunity for police. His apologies have not been universally embraced by those his initial comments offended, but 49ers star defensive back Richard Sherman was one who did.
“I appreciated him doing that,” Sherman told The San Francisco Chronicle. “People make mistakes in judgment all the time. None of us are perfect. I think it was just such a disappointment because the locker room and the culture is different than any other place. So you kind of get lulled into the belief that everyone has torn down those stereotypes and those walls. And everyone is treating each other equally.
“I feel better about him actually taking the time to educate himself. He and his wife — they’re not bad people. But I think he didn’t fully understand the impact of those words. And I think he does fully understand it. So I do accept his apology.”