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NFL players begin legislative advocacy campaign on social justice issues, meet with lawmakers and community officials

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ALBANY, N.Y. — What started when NFL players sparked a national discussion on racism and police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem will continue this week as current and former players will meet with lawmakers and community officials in major cities across the Northeast.

The campaign began Tuesday in New York’s state capitol, where New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis — representing the Players Coalition — joined criminal justice reform advocates to lobby legislators to change what they believe are race-based disparities in the bail system.

“We’re using our platform and our space to do our part, to raise awareness [on] the social injustices that are going on in our country,” said Davis, who signed last week with Saints after playing for the New York Jets. “In New York, we’re focusing on criminal reform. That’s just a small piece in a big puzzle.”

On Wednesday, former Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson will participate in a town hall-style session in Baltimore that will focus on police and community relations. On Thursday in Washington, D.C., Redskins cornerback Josh Norman will head a group that will visit a local school to discuss education and economic advancement. On Thursday in Boston, New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty and former Pats star linebacker Willie McGinest will meet with key legislators.

One of the topics of discussion will be a bill that would raise the age within the juvenile justice system.

The week concludes Friday in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins and former NFL wideout Anquan Boldin, among others, will participate in a Harvard University summit that will include panel discussions on criminal justice reform and related issues plaguing communities.

In January, the NFL finalized plans to partner with players on social justice issues, announcing a “Let’s Listen Together” initiative that will publicize the players’ work on social and racial equality. Team owners earmarked $89 million over a seven-year period for the project.

A league official told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that team owners will discuss the social justice platform at next week’s annual league meetings in Orlando, Florida. The official also told Schefter that no vote on a policy change as it pertains to the national anthem is anticipated.

“The league has been instrumental in helping us bring light to our community and the issues that are going on in them,” said Davis, who believes player protests will decrease in 2018 because of the league’s support.

Davis, joined by members of the Bronx Public Defenders, spent Tuesday meeting with legislative aides on both sides of the aisle. The veteran linebacker, who granted behind-the-scenes access to ESPN, was articulate and passionate in the meetings. He asked questions and pressed the lawmakers’ staff members when they appeared to be dodging specific issues. He challenged them to “move the needle” and enact change in their constituencies.

In between meetings, Davis visited the New York State Senate Chamber, where he mingled with state senators and, yes, posed for some pictures.

“I think today was very effective,” Davis said afterward.

Davis was joined by former NFL player Walter Beach, 83, who came from his home in Pennsylvania to support the cause. A former Cleveland Browns cornerback, Beach attended the famous Cleveland ’67 summit with fellow activists Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell and Lew Alcindor (later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).

“Football is what he does,” Beach said of Davis, “but it’s not who he is.”

Beach said he supported the national anthem protests last fall, disagreeing with those who say players dishonored the flag by kneeling. He said the kneeling was meant to be symbolic, but “that got lost, like everything else that makes sense in this country has been lost.”

Claiming he was blackballed by the NFL because of his activism — he successfully sued the league for his pension — Beach said he can relate to Colin Kaepernick, who was out of football last season and remains unsigned.

Beach believes it was because of Kaepernick’s polarizing beliefs.

“Of course it is,” Beach said. “Anyone who knows anything about football couldn’t begin to suggest he shouldn’t be one of the 32 [starting] quarterbacks. “If you say there are 32 guys better than him, you don’t know anything about football.”

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New Orleans Saints’ Michael Thomas ruled out vs. Green Bay Packers with ankle injury

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METAIRIE, La. — New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas won’t play in Sunday night’s game against the Green Bay Packers after he was ruled out for the second straight week with his high ankle sprain.

Thomas has not practiced since he suffered the ankle injury during the final minutes of New Orleans’ Week 1 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, the team chose not to place him on injured reserve — which would have required him to miss at least three games. So there is still hope that he could potentially return as soon as next week.

The Saints’ offense struggled without Thomas in Monday night’s 34-24 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders, which led to scrutiny over Drew Brees’ lack of downfield passes.

Brees completed 26 of 38 passes for 312 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Third-year receiver Tre’Quan Smith caught five passes for 86 yards, but newly signed veteran receiver Emmanuel Sanders had just once catch for 18 yards.

“Obviously with the loss of Mike Thomas last week, we’re having to fit some guys in new roles, get some guys some significant playing time, maybe in different situations that they haven’t been in before,” Brees said earlier this week. “I think there definitely is that element of just getting everybody on the same page, everybody in sync. And man, I’m confident with the guys that we have, with the system that we have and everything that we’re gonna be able to get back on track.”

Thomas is obviously vital to New Orleans’ offense. He won the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year award last season after setting the NFL record with 149 catches in a season.

Thomas isn’t the only star receiver who might be missing from Sunday night’s marquee matchup, however. Packers receiver Davante Adams is listed as doubtful after missing practice all week with a hamstring injury.

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Detroit Lions’ Kenny Golladay (hamstring) hopes to make debut vs. Arizona Cardinals

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The Detroit Lions seem to be closer to getting back their top wide receiver.

Kenny Golladay said he hopes to make his season debut against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday after missing the first two games with a hamstring injury. “God-willing, I’m going to try everything in my power to be out there with the guys,” Golladay said.

The Pro Bowl wide receiver practiced on a limited basis Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and said while he doesn’t feel 100 percent — he wouldn’t put a percentage on how healthy he is — he’s going to do everything he can and show enough to play against Arizona.

In three career games, Golladay has three touchdowns against Arizona.

Golladay, 26, said the injury has been frustrating, but that unlike his rookie year when he also had a hamstring injury, he listened to his body more this time around. He also said he understood his body more and wanted to make sure there wouldn’t be any setbacks. So he listened to his trainers and didn’t push anything.

“Me missing a couple of games to try and be back hopefully for Week 3,” Golladay said. “That’s better than me missing six games.”

Detroit is getting healthier. In addition to Golladay, right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai (foot) is questionable but practiced all week. Cornerback Desmond Trufant (hamstring) is doubtful, safety C.J. Moore (calf) is questionable and tight end Hunter Bryant (hamstring) is out.

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Tennessee Titans LB Vic Beasley finally set for season debut

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Outside linebacker Vic Beasley will make his debut for the Tennessee Titans on Sunday when they travel to Minnesota to face the Vikings.

Beasley has been dealing with a knee injury that limited him in practice for most of the previous two weeks. After working on a separate field with head coach Mike Vrabel, Beasley has been a full participant at practice since Thursday of last week.

The sixth-year linebacker signed a one-year, $9.5 million deal with the Titans in March and took part in virtual meetings with the team during the offseason. But Beasley reported to camp 10 days late, an unexcused absence that resulted in a $500,000 fine.

“There was a little disagreement here and there, but those things are behind us. I have moved on and let bygones be bygones,” Beasley said Friday. “That’s something that we’ll keep confidential between me and the other party. What’s understood is understood. We came to an agreement, settled our differences and are both understanding of the situation. It’s all smiles on both ends, and we are happy to work together.”

Once Beasley got to camp he was placed on the non-football injury list. The Titans listed Beasley on the practice report with a knee injury. Beasley complimented the Titans’ training staff, calling it “amazing” and saying “they have been nothing but good” for him.

As a member of the Atlanta Falcons, Beasley led the NFL with 15.5 sacks in 2015. He finished with 8.5 sacks for the Falcons last season. A questionable work ethic and passion for the game reportedly led to Beasley becoming a free agent. But he feels he’s in the right place with the Titans.

“I’m excited getting to work with Vrabes, a guy who has the defensive perspective and actually played the same position that I did. That can only benefit me,” Beasley said. “I love the game. I wouldn’t waste nobody’s time if I didn’t love the game. I’m not going to give nobody half-hearted effort.”

Now that he is on the field, the Titans hope to get a boost in their pass rush that can help them reach the ultimate goal. Said Beasley, “Here, we are all on the same mission — that’s to win the Super Bowl.”

Wide receiver A.J. Brown was ruled out for Sunday’s game with a knee injury, while rookie running back Darrynton Evans is set to make his NFL debut.

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