NEW YORK (USA TODAY) — In the courtyard in front of NFL headquarters and spilling out into the sidewalk and stretching more than a city block away, hundreds gathered for a rally in support of free agent Colin Kaepernick on Wednesday.
Organizers of the "United We Stand" requested a meeting with league executives by Sept. 7, the day of the regular-season opener, to discuss potential policy changes and methods to support and protect players who are socially active. If the meeting is not granted, organizers vowed to boycott the league and singled out Verizon as a league sponsor, urging those in attendance to potentially change their service provider to competitors.
"We are here 'cause we believe Colin Kaepernick deserves a job," said Symone Sanders, former national press secretary for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, and co-host of the rally. "We also believe that the National Football League has been complicit in the ostracization of Colin Kaepernick. And today, it's time for the NFL to take a stand."
The league offered a response.
"We told the group that organized today’s rally (The United We Stand Rally Coalition) that we would not be able to pull together a meeting today," NFL vice president of communications Brian McCarthy wrote in an email to USA TODAY Sports. "We said we would look to set up a meeting in the next few weeks with groups that have reached out to us. The group declined the opportunity.
"The Commissioner has been visiting training camps and participating with other players in fan forums."
(USA TODAY) - McCarthy provided Commissioner Roger Goodell's answers from fan forum events in Detroit, Phoenix, and Cleveland about how the NFL is "working closely with our players on finding a way to make a difference and do it (in) a positive way and not be divisive and do all the things necessary to make our communities better."
The rally was organized by several activists and civil rights organizations, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Justice League NYC, the National Action Network, The People's Consortium, and the Empowerment Movement. Chants of "BOYCOTT, BOYCOTT" and "STAND WITH KAEP, STAND WITH KAEP" rang out at various times.
Across the street on Park Avenue, however, a man held a sign with the words "COLIN THE COMMIE." There were only a handful of people who waved a Thin Blue Line flag meant to honor living and fallen law enforcement officers. That paled in comparison to the approximate 500 or so demonstrators gathered on Kaepernick's behalf.
"We have come today to assert to the NFL that we are demanding that you enact a policy that will protect the freedom of expression of the players to be able to speak about the issues of social justice that matter to them" said Stephen A. Green, president of The People's Consortium.
"We are demanding that they be safeguarded from humiliation, from ostracization and from exclusion — so much so that if they find themselves in a predicament that they can fine the NFL. We want to make sure that they continue to speak up for the lives of black and brown people in this country."
Other speakers at the event included U.S. representative for New York's 5th congressional district Gregory Meeks, president of the NAACP New York State Conference Dr. Hazel Dukes, national co-chair for the Women's March Tamika Mallory and pastor and social activist Jamal Bryant.
"We're here because this is a state of emergency for our community and a state of emergency for this country," Bryant said. "How in the world can we call ourselves the land of the free, the home of the brave, but you get vilified and criminalized just for speaking your mind? The NFL has proven, with their treatment of Colin Kaepernick, they do not mind if black players get a concussion. They just got a problem if they get a conscience."
More than an hour after the rally concluded, about 75 demonstrators remained on the steps in front of the NFL's offices.
This marks the second organized gathering in front of NFL headquarters in the past three months. In May, a crowd of about 70 demonstrators showed up for a “show of solidarity” that was spearheaded by 100 Suits for 100 Men, a non-profit that gives parolees free business attire and haircuts to assist them in job interviews.
Also, over the weekend, current and former New York Police officers held a rally in support of Kaepernick in Brooklyn.
Follow Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes