Omar Kelly: Dolphins social-impact group makes sure team backs up their video with action

Tribune Content Agency

DAVIE, Fla. — Last week, the Miami Dolphins players unveiled a moving video that called out the NFL and some of its fans for their hypocrisy on social justice over the years.

The video announced the team’s decision to stay inside the locker room all season during the playing of the national anthem before football games, and the message created a social media stir.

Creating the 2-minute, 17-second message of players speaking from their heart in a collectively written poem was just the starting point of the team’s plans to shake things up.

After calling for less talk and more action when it comes to addressing social justice issues in the video, the Dolphins players are putting their efforts and money into their cause, executing initiatives aimed at improving life in South Florida.

“As a football player you got to be able to look at yourself in the mirror and ask, ‘What more can I be doing?’ ” Dolphins cornerback Byron Jones said. “Am I doing enough? When you look yourself in the mirror oftentimes that (answer) is a no.”

That is why the Dolphins assembled a Social Impact Committee this spring. The group has met regularly since a viral image of George Floyd — gasping for his final breaths as a police officer’s knee pinned his limp body down — sparked worldwide protests this spring.

For many, that video of Floyd in Minneapolis served as a metaphor of the 400 years of violence, racism and systemic oppression people of color have been subjected to in America and throughout the world.

Dolphins players and coaches hope it has affected our community as much as it has impacted them.

There are four components to the Dolphins’ player-led efforts: health, education, uniting the community and voting. Kaleb Thornhill, the Dolphins’ Director of Player Engagement, is working with the players to turn their agenda into action.

This is not the Miami Dolphins’ Foundation, which has done good works in the community for decades, with players handing out Thanksgiving turkeys, back-to-school backpacks and other actions sometimes geared toward social justice. The money for the foundation comes from owner Steve Ross and team profits.

This committee gets money from the players themselves — which the NFL matches as part of the league’s initiatives. The players’ group sometimes works with the Dolphins Foundation, however, to pool resources and choose projects.

Last week, as a part of the players committee’s initiative, the Dolphins Foundation made a four-year, $1 million commitment to the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital aimed at addressing health disparities impacting Black and minority communities.

The pledge will focus on diabetes, sickle cell disease and COVID-19 related issues, and provide the hospital a social worker who will coordinate the diabetes management of low-income patients.

The fund also supports the Nicklaus Children’s Transitional Research project, which has the goal of tackling the mental health struggles in the African-American community.

This week, the Dolphins’ Social Impact Committee announced a plan to increase voter awareness and engagement throughout South Florida.

The committee, in conjunction with the Miami Dolphins Foundation and an NFL Foundation social justice grant, donated $100,000 to the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition Fines and Fees program, which helps former felons pay outstanding fees so they can become eligible to vote.

The donation should allow thousands of people to restore their voting rights before November’s general election.

“These are people who are not incarcerated, not on parole and probation, they are out there in our communities,” Desmond Meade, Executive Director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition said.

According to Meade, there are 74,000 South Floridians who need to pay their court costs, fees and fines before their voting rights can be restored, and the average that is owed is roughly $1,000.

“Restoring voting rights to our citizens was only step one in this fight for change,” linebacker Elandon Roberts said. “Personally, knowing someone who was wrongly convicted of a felony crime and still wishes nothing more but to make a positive difference in his community, makes it that much more crucial for me.”

Next week, the Dolphins players and the foundation are donating $300,000 total to Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach County schools to purchase wireless hotspots and digital technology that will help students and parents in underserved communities get better Wi-Fi access, which is needed for distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is a project near and dear to Brian Flores’ heart. The Dolphins coach, one of three minority head coaches in the NFL, admitted his family and neighbors growing up in Brownville, Brooklyn would have struggled with distance learning because of their financial challenges.

Many of the Dolphins players come from similar backgrounds and fear that those in poorer communities will be left behind now.

Bridging those types of gaps will be the mission of Miami’s Social Impact Committee.

Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick tried to bring many of these issues of systemic racism to the nation’s attention when he began kneeling during anthems in 2016, but the NFL botched how it handled that situation. Political pressure and a vocal segment of the fan base hijacked the message. Kaepernick was effectively blackballed from the NFL.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and many of the league’s owners have changed their tune in 2020 as public opinion has changed and the Black Lives Matter movement has taken off. Phrases like “Equality for Everyone” are painted on NFL fields, shirts with the words “End Racism” are sold in different teams’ colors,. However, that doesn’t mean their intentions are genuine or that their actions and agenda will remain consistent.

Dolphins players aren’t waiting to see if the league drops the ball again.

“We wanted to take action,” Dolphin tailback Patrick Laird vowed. “We love to raise awareness about issues, but we really wanted to take action.”

While words are often encouraging, the Dolphins are showing that deeds and donations can create more of a lasting impact.


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