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Russell Okung Urges NFL Players to Develop Unified Plan for Protests

Chargers veteran Russell Okung issued a public call Friday morning for his fellow NFL players to develop a unified strategy for using their platform to address issues of inequality. 

In a letter on The Players’ Tribune, Okung urged his colleagues to “find a way to collaborate and exercise our agency as the lifeblood of the league.” He also lamented that NFL owners have been far more organized than players when it comes to addressing the league-wide protests during the national anthem. Okung wants players to put aside their on-field differences and come together to find a way to represent themselves as NFL players rather than players of individual teams. 

“It’s telling that these decisions are being made at the team level and not being driven by the interests of the players collectively,” Okung wrote.

As the NFL considers implementing a rule that would require all players to stand for the anthem, owners will meet next week in New York to discuss the protests. The league later announced that NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith and player leaders will join that meeting. The NFL’s position is clear, though—it wants all players to stand for the anthem. Okung is clear, too—he feels NFL players should not cave to the league’s pressure to curb protests. 

Okung also feels that the protests have been warped to obscure their original intention—speaking out against police brutality and racial injustice. 

“As [Colin Kaepernick’s] message has now been distorted, co-opted and used to further divide us along the very racial lines he was highlighting, we as players have a responsibility to come together and respond collectively,” he wrote.

Okung wants to return the demonstrations to that message, as opposed to Donald Trump’s preferred angle about “disrespecting” the flag.

“I’m about shifting the narrative. We can’t be distracted by what he is trying to do,” Okung told the New York Times. “We’re honing our voice. We’re not unified against Trump, we’re unified against social injustice.”

Okung is willing to take on the role of leading the charge to organize the players, asking them to reach out to him on Twitter—“the President’s favorite medium,” he cracked—to begin the communication process. 

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