Roger Goodell and Gayle Benson at criminal justice meeting

Saints player Ben Watson, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Saints owner Gayle Benson listen to a speaker during a criminal justice symposium organized by the Players Coalition on Tuesday, September 11, 2018.

The National Football League Foundation announced on Tuesday that a Louisiana nonprofit for formerly incarcerated people will receive a $100,000 grant, part of the league’s latest move aimed at responding to the debate sparked by quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s on-field protests against injustice and police violence.

The money for the group VOTE, also known as Voice of the Experienced, is one of seven grants to social justice organizations revealed this week that together total nearly $2 million, the league said.

Norris Henderson, VOTE’s executive director, said the group intends to use the money on a statewide push to register former inmates to vote. The campaign is made possible by a new state law that allows people who have been out of prison for five years to cast ballots even if they remain on probation and parole.

The law, which took effect on March 1, restored the right to vote to about 36,000 people.

“We’re about to launch this massive education campaign and voter registration campaign,” Henderson said. “I just hope this is the gift that keeps on giving.”

Other grantees included the Washington, D.C., nonprofit law firm Civil Rights Corps, which has been active in litigation against court fines and fees in Louisiana, and the Vera Institute of Justice, which has had an office in New Orleans for several years.

All the grants were approved by an NFL owner-player working group, the league said.

The grant announcement comes nine months after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell toured the New Orleans criminal justice system, visiting Magistrate Court and the Orleans Public Defenders.

Goodell met with Henderson, Saints owner Gayle Benson and players Demario Davis and Ben Watson. Henderson credited that visit, along with the advocacy of Davis and Watson, for the grant.

In May 2018, the NFL agreed with the Players Coalition — an athletes’ organization created after Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem before games to protest police shootings of black men — to create a $90 million “social justice partnership.”

Kaepernick’s protest and the league’s response drew heated criticism from all sides. Some progressives blasted the NFL when Kaepernick found himself unable to land a job as a free agent with any team in 2017.

Henderson said he had no qualms about accepting the grant, pointing to the many Saints fans served by his organization.

“The fact that the money is coming from the league is kind of like reciprocity in a sense … there’s people in the community that support them,” he said.


Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.