October 3, 2022

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NFL funding ‘defund the police’ groups through ‘Inspire Change’ program

The National Football League’s “Inspire Change” partners, which receive financial backing from the multibillion-dollar league, include multiple groups that have openly advocated for defunding the police, a Fox News Digital review of the program found. 

Groups who have received funds as part of “Inspire Change,” the NFL’s social justice initiative, include the Vera Institute of Justice, the Oregon Justice Resource Center and the Community Justice Exchange. All three of those groups support defunding or abolishing the police, a review of their public statements shows. 

While the NFL’s general support of social justice causes is widely known, the fact that the league is propping up groups trying to defund police departments has not been previously reported. 

The NFL’s “Inspire Change” program includes funding for groups trying to defund or abolish police departments. A banner promoting the “Inspire Change” initiative is seen at an October 2020 game between the Los Angeles Rams and Washington Football Tea (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images / Getty Images)

The NFL gave $300,000 to the Oregon Justice Resource Center (OJRC), the group disclosed to local media. It’s unclear how much the NFL gave to the Vera Institute of Justice and Community Justice Exchange, though the NFL has donated tens of millions of dollars as part of the “Inspire Change” program, according to the league.  

Vera and the Community Justice Exchange have been NFL grantees since 2020, while the OJRC first received funding from the NFL this year, according to the league.  

The Community Justice Exchange, which didn’t provide a comment by press time, aims to get rid of not only policing and prisons, but also immigration enforcement, according to its public statements. 

“The Community Justice Exchange is working towards a world without prisons, policing, prosecution, surveillance or any form of detention or supervision,” the group states on its website. Its work includes publishing a roadmap to “prison abolition.” 

The group also runs the National Bail Fund Network, whose chapters include the Minnesota Freedom Fund, a group that gained notoriety for bailing out rioters and alleged domestic abusers, among others, during the summer 2020 riots. Vice President Kamala Harris was among the high-profile figures who promoted the Minnesota Freedom Fund last year. 

The NFL’s support for the group includes supporting “75+ local community-based bail and bond funds, working to end money bail and pre-trial detention at the local level and immigration detention at the national level,” according to the NFL’s “Inspire Change” website. 

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The OJRC is similarly open in its support for defunding the police. 

“The brutality of LE [law enforcement] & cruelty of our prisons are connected by the same malignant tumor: white supremacy,” the OJRC tweeted in June 2020. “We must dismantle/defund it all.” 

In August, when Portland’s mayor called for restoring previously slashed police funding amid a crime spike, the OJRC criticized the move.

“Portland leaders from the Mayor down or anyone else advocating for more $ for police either don’t get it or don’t want to get it,” the group tweeted. It added: “We need to defund the police and build up communities.”

A demonstrator in New York holds a "defund the police" sign

A demonstrator holds a “Defund the police” sign in Brooklyn, New York.  (Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images / Getty Images)

The NFL’s funding of the OJRC supports its Women’s Justice Project, Youth Justice Project and “[s]ustaining current capacity and enabling the OJRC to expand,” according to the league. The OJRC declined to comment. 

Like the OJRC, the New York-based Vera Institute of Justice is unapologetic in its support for defunding the police. 

“Vera is committed to dismantling the current culture of policing and working toward solutions that defund police and shift power to communities,” the group’s president, Nicholas Turner, wrote in June 2020. He also touted Minneapolis leaders’ pledge to “dismantle” the city’s police department – a move ultimately rejected by voters in a ballot measure last month – as one of several “victories” notched by activists.

Vera’s backing of the defund the police movement came amid nationwide protests – many of which devolved into riots that caused nearly $2 billion in damage – following the death of George Floyd

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NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wears a protective face covering due to the Covid-19 pandemic before the Las Vegas Raiders play against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium on October 4, 2021 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell before the Las Vegas Raiders-Los Angeles Chargers game at SoFi Stadium on Oct. 4, 2021. (Harry How/Getty Images / Getty Images)

The NFL’s funding of the group supports “Vera’s In Our Backyards initiative and its work to end the catastrophic rise of incarceration in small cities and rural counties, advance racial equity, and reinvest in supports and resources that build truly healthy and vibrant communities through policy advocacy, narrative-changing campaigns and research in partnership with community members and system stakeholders,” according to the league. 

The NFL’s money also supports “Vera’s Policing Program and its work to advance crisis response programs, policies, and resources that connect people experiencing behavioral health crises to community-based services while minimizing involvement with police and the criminal justice system.” 

The NFL declined to specifically answer several questions from Fox News Digital but provided a statement from a spokesperson defending the program. 

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“Our 33 social justice grant partners have been selected based on the critical work that they have done surrounding Inspire Change’s four pillars – education, economic advancement, criminal justice reform, and police & community relations – to break down barriers to opportunity, end systemic racism, and bridge the gap between members of law enforcement and the communities they serve,” the spokesperson said. 

“We stand by the work our grant partners have done and the lasting positive impact made in communities across the country.”