Monday, September 24, 2018

NFL Commissioner, Saints discuss criminal justice issues

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell toured New Orleans' criminal justice system on Tuesday, taking part in a daylong symposium organized by a nonprofit 12 players formed.

Goodell went to the Orleans Public Defenders office with New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson and linebacker Demario Davis, news outlets report. The teammates are among those who formed the Players Coalition, which organized the meeting to talk with several local groups involved in criminal justice reform.

Goodell and the group spoke with defense attorneys and formerly incarcerated people about topics including bail fees and court costs defendants pay to help support the local criminal justice system. Federal judges recently declared the user-funded court system to be unconstitutional because the state judges who set fines and fees cannot be impartial as it involves their own budget.

The group also watched a judge set bail for people making their first court appearances. Watson said Goodell's presence spoke volumes about his willingness to support the players' effort.

The Coalition seeks to move the focus away from discussions about protests during the national anthem to the issues the demonstrations sought to draw awareness to. Then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling while the "Star-Spangled Banner" played in 2016, seeking to bring attention to police brutality and social injustice affecting African Americans and other communities of color.

The symposium was one of several the Coalition has held in other cities in recent months. Saints Owner Gayle Benson, President Dennis Lauscha and defensive end Cam Jordan also attended.

Another topic discussed was Louisiana's law that doesn't require a jury to be unanimous to send a defendant to life in prison. Watson and Davis both said they plan to speak out about the rule, which voters have an opportunity to change in November.

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