Advancing the process from talk to action, the San Francisco 49ers have selected nine nonprofit organizations that will split $1 million in grants to continue the fight for racial equality and social justice, NFL.com has learned.
CEO Jed York pledged the financial commitment on May 30, less than a week after George Floyd, an unarmed and handcuffed Black man, died beneath the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer, setting off protests and demonstrations across the globe.
At the time, York said the team wanted to work to support the legislative priorities of the Players Coalition, a non-profit comprised of active and former players that is seeking systemic change at the federal, state and local levels through advocacy, awareness, education and allocation of resources.
To that end, the Players Coalition is among the nine grant recipients, joining Californians for Safety and Justice, The Innocence Project, 100 Black Men of the Bay Area, African American Community Services Agency, Dream Corps, Operation HOPE, SPAAT and PICO California.
"I hope the impact of this sets the example for our team and our future teams that we want to work together to make our community a better place," York told NFL.com. "Money is not the only solution to a lot of the problems; it's really the process of having the conversation with people and getting introduced to different groups and different organizations that are doing things to advance causes that are important to all of us. The causes that are important to us today may be different five years from now, so it's not just one thing and that's the only thing you do forever. You have to make sure you're always looking at what the issues are and what you can affect, and I hope that that's what comes of this and is the lasting impact for the 49ers in the community."
Recipients were required to have a focus in one of three areas: racial equality in policing; ending mass incarceration; education and economic advancement for young Black people.
The selection process took seven weeks and included input from across the organization, with both the Black Employee Resource Group and the Community Relations department being heavily involved. The 58 applicants were vetted and given overall scores by separate committees; the finalists were then forwarded to the team's Leadership Committee for review. A six-member Player Social Justice Committee -- comprised of Arik Armstead, Dee Ford, Ben Garland, Jamar Taylor, Solomon Thomas and Laken Tomlinson -- interviewed the finalists via Zoom on Aug. 19 in a Shark Tank-like format and decided which organizations would receive monies and how much.
"What we really talked about when deliberating on how to spend the money was impact -- what would have the greatest impact?" Armstead said. "Like, if you want to change legislation, there's a lot of money involved with that, so we put a little more money toward that."
Garland said he felt pressure during the process because of the responsibility involved.
"With the gravity of the situation, guys took a lot of things to heart," he said. "Even within the interview process, a lot of the guys were asking a lot of hard-hitting questions and really diving in to make sure this money could make the most amount of impact around the community."
Armstead stressed that the grants are only one part of the process. He said it was critical that the relationship between the organizations and the players continue after the donations are made.
"That's something I wanted to make sure was clear, that there would be not only opportunities to give monies to the organizations but actually go and be a participant in their programs and to meet some of the youth that they work with," Armstead said. "On the legislative side, they have certain agendas and initiatives that they're trying to push that need awareness, and maybe working with the team and using our platforms can help. The goal was not just to offer money, but offer a partnership."
The grants, which will be distributed over the next two years, are part of the 49ers' actionable efforts to create positive societal change. In the offseason, the franchise launched the educational video series Subject to Change, whose initial episodes focused on race and police brutality, voter education and steps to take for progressive change in the San Francisco Bay Area. Players also recorded public service announcements to promote voter registration, the 2020 Census and Get Out the Vote. In addition, ownership declared Juneteenth an organization-wide paid holiday. The commitment organizationally and socially to change is not lost on the players, particularly those who helped select the grant recipients.
"I think it's going to make a huge impact," Garland said. "Even when we were talking to the organizations and vetting them and figuring out who we were going to give the money to, the guys wanted to go for organizations that really targeted the kids and the youth and were really changing communities from the bottom up. I think kids are really going to make the biggest impact (in the fight for change), so being able to reach them at a young age will hopefully make an entire culture shift within our community."