Each NFL locker room consists of as many as 63 players with different upbringings and passions, and as a result, social justice has come to the forefront in an era when athletes are involved in their communities more than ever.
That is how a group of Giants players ended up in Bronx Criminal Court on a Tuesday afternoon in late November.
Michael Thomas, Antonio Hamilton and Ronald Zamort spent their off-day with The Bronx Defenders, a public defender non-profit organization aimed at transforming how low-income people in the Bronx are represented in the justice system. The day was organized by the Vera Institute of Justice, which works closely with the government to build and improve justice systems. It was the second phase of a joint initiative between the Giants and the Vera Institute. Over the summer, players rode along with the Camden County (N.J.) Police Department, which serves as a model because of its community policing and de-escalation efforts. This day was about pre-trial justice and the bail process.
“It’s important for me to always try to give back to my community,” said Thomas, the Giants’ nominee for the 2018 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which recognizes outstanding community service activities off the field as well as excellence on the field. “I’ve always been involved with my community, but ever since my involvement as a player advocate, when I started in 2016 back when I was in Miami, I always wanted to say, OK, yeah, I’m using my voice and my platform on the field, but what am I doing when I’m not in uniform, what am I doing when I’m not being a football player and in regards of us taking a knee or not?
“Giving back and trying to say, OK, if this is the system, this is the issue, this is the problem, bail, unfair sentencing, stuff like that, then how does it work? What are the issues? So doing the legwork, getting out in communities, seeing what programs, what companies are out there actually fighting and doing the legwork every single day – how can I get involved? How can I use my voice? How can I use my relationship with the Giants and the NFL to help their cause?”
If the players thought their daily in-season schedule was demanding, they quickly learned in a round-table discussion that they had nothing on The Bronx Defenders. And there is no off-season in the justice system.