Lions players, owner Martha Ford pledge $600,000 to community efforts

Dave Birkett
Detroit Free Press

It started with a knee, or eight of them, and on Monday, Detroit Lions players and owner Martha Ford took the next step in their continuing pledge to help causes important to the community.

Ford and Lions players pledged $600,000, with Ford matching player contributions, to help launch the new "Detroit Lions Inspire Change" initiative around the city.

The money will help fund three causes chosen by players in a process that was set in motion when eight Lions took a knee during the singing of the national anthem for a 2017 game against the Atlanta Falcons.

The players, just three of whom remain with the team – A'Shawn Robinson, Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Steve Longa – were protesting social injustices and demonstrating against insensitive remarks made by President Donald Trump.

Sept. 24, 2017: Lions players link arms and kneel during the national anthem before the game against the Falcons at Ford Field. The Lions lost, 30-26.

Ford met with the team in the days after their protest and said she'd be willing to both donate money and her name to causes important to players if they refrained from protesting during the anthem.

Led by the team's leadership council, the Lions decided on scholarship funding, social educational programs and medical aid and health assistance as their causes for 2019.

Their donations will help fund scholarships for three groups: Families who've lost service members through the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS); the Detroit Youth Violence Prevention Initiative (DYVPI), a youth development arm of the Detroit Police Department; and students at Detroit Lions Academy.

The money also will go towards funding programs at the Detroit Justice Center and Covenant House of Michigan, to provide clean drinking water in Detroit public schools, and to help the CATCH charity for children and Mariners Inn for homeless men.

Detroit Lions' Quandre Diggs reacts after intercepting a pass during the second half against the Green Bay Packers, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Green Bay, Wis.

"Expanding upon our commitment to influencing social justice reform was a primary goal for our organization this season," Ford said in a statement released by the team. "With the support of our players, who over the years have demonstrated a longstanding devotion to serving this community in which they live and work, we have successfully established the foundation of what we expect to be a multi-year platform in Detroit. I am grateful for the players’ participation in these important discussions happening right now in our country."

Last year, Lions president Rod Wood said Ford committed an unspecified amount of money to three similar causes picked by players. Through a program that Wood referred to as "Lions Pride in the Community," the organization helped fund a holiday event in conjunction with Golden Tate's foundation that supports families who've lost a relative in war; partnered with the group All Pro Dad to host a seminar teaching men how to be better fathers; and to bring players and law enforcement officials together for a town hall-style meeting.

Under "Detroit Lions Inspire Change," players will continue to pick causes and charities important to the group and Ford will help support their initiatives.

Lions owner Martha Ford on the sidelines prior to the game against the Cowboys on Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018, in Arlington, Texas.

“Social justice to us means equality amongst all types of people, no matter your race, religion or what you believe in," linebacker Devon Kennard said in a statement released by the team. "There has been a lot of talk about awareness and I think we as NFL players are beyond that now. It’s about action and what we are going to do, and this initiative is the start of something impactful. There is no greater place than our own backyard here in Detroit."

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