NFL: Most Notable Activists, Advocates, Peyton Manning, Michael Bennett - Rolling Stone
Home Culture Culture Lists

Taking a Stand: 10 of the NFL’s Most Notable Activists and Advocates

From Colin Kaepernick to Peyton Manning, we look at the football players who have stood (or kneeled) for what they believe in

nfl taking a stand activists advocates

Ricky Wiliams, Colin Kaepernick and Jim Brown are just three notable outspoken men in the NFL.

Steven Senne/AP, Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images, Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty Images

Throughout the history of the NFL, countless players have used their platform on the national sports stage to take stands for the causes they believe in, whether activism or advocacy. From the controversial to the charitable, here are some of the most notable names who’ve used their athletic stature to shine a light on something greater off the field.

nfl taking a stand michael bennett

Running back Thomas Rawls #34 of the Seattle Seahawks stands with center Justin Britt #68, right, to join defensive end Michael Bennett #72 on the bench during the national anthem before the game at CenturyLink Field on September 17, 2017 in Seattle, Washington.

Otto Greule Jr /Getty Images

Michael Bennett

While Colin Kaepernick is usually the activist who captures the headlines these days, Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett has also been on the front lines of the equality movement in the league – even sharing a recent encounter in which he was allegedly singled out by Las Vegas police. Not only does Bennett kneel for the National Anthem, but the outspoken player also put his money where is mouth is by donating all of is 2017 endorsement cash to charity. “Especially with the presidential race and police shootings and stuff like that, people are paying so much attention now that they are getting an opportunity to really speak,” said Bennett. “And I think [players] have to use our platform for the right reason.”

nfl taking a stand lal davis

Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis (C) greets his players Grady Jackson (L) and Mo Collins before their pre-season game against the Dallas Cowboys 15 August, 1999, in Oakland, California. The Raiders defeated the Cowboys, 10-7.

John G. Mabanglo/AFP/Getty Images

Al Davis

While Davis may not be a household name, the former Oakland Raiders owner (who died in 2011) made a monumental impact on race relations in professional football. Dating back to 1963 when he opted out of the Raiders playing a game in Alabama in protest of segregation, and in later years when he garnered the distinctions of hiring the first African-American female front office exec and first African-American head coach in NFL history. 

nfl taking a stand kenny washington

Los Angeles Rams running back Kenny Washington poses for a photo.

Pro Football Hall of Fame/AP

Kenny Washington

While nowhere near as well known as his baseball counterpart Jackie Robinson, Washington was the first black professional football player, joining the Los Angeles Rams in 1946. A leading rusher at the time, Washington paved the way for African-Americans in the league during his two years with the team. Oddly enough, the legendary player later became a staunch supporter of Richard Nixon, campaigning for the future president’s senate campaign in 1950. 

nfl taking a stand ricky williams

Former NFL football player Ricky Williams, who played for the New Orleans Saints and the Miami Dolphins among other teams, addresses an audience during a conference on medical marijuana at Harvard Medical School, Tuesday, April 11, 2017, in Boston.

Steven Senne/AP

Ricky Williams

When it comes to marijuana, there’s no bigger advocate in football than two-time All-American and Heisman Trophy winner Williams. Following stints with the Saints and Dolphins in the early 2000s (with failed drug tests throughout), the San Diego native has become one of pot’s biggest supporters in football. A partner in the burgeoning tech company Weedmaps (an app that locates the nearest dispensaries), Williams is spending his post-NFL career entrenched in the marijuana industry, regularly promoting it as a form of alternative medicine. According to Williams, weed enables “the part of us that connects with something bigger… You become not so attached to your own stuff. If you integrate that [approach], then addictions – alcoholism, food, porn; all these behaviors that plague society – we’ll start to change them. Those things are a side effect of a lack of integration. That’s how I use cannabis.”

Arrow Created with Sketch. Calendar Created with Sketch. Path Created with Sketch. Shape Created with Sketch. Plus Created with Sketch. minus Created with Sketch.