Steven Nelson, Other Steelers, Sign Players Coalition Letter Calling for End to Qualified Immunity

Steven Nelson Odell Beckham Jr.

Getty Steven Nelson and Odell Beckham Jr.: Two of the NFL players who are calling for an end to qualified immunity.

Pittsburgh Steelers’ players Steven Nelson and Kevin Dotson are among 1,400 current and former professional athletes and coaches who have signed a letter calling for passage of the Amash-Pressley Ending Qualified Immunity Act.

The bill, introduced by U.S. Representatives Justin Amash (L-Mich.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), seeks to eliminate the modern-day legal doctrine of qualified immunity, which often shields police and other government officials from lawsuits related to their conduct, even in cases involving extreme levels of abuse.

The aforementioned letter, seen in its entirety here, was sent to Congress yesterday by the Players Coalition, which was founded by NFL players Anquan Boldin and Malcolm Jenkins in 2017, with the goal of combatting racial inequality and ending social injustices.

Former Steelers players who signed the letter include: James Farrior, Roosevelt Nix, Will Johnson, Chris Hubbard, Kelvin Beachum, Kris Brown, Najeh Davenport, Josh Dobbs, Arthur Moats, Al Woods and Will Wolford.

Players Coalition: ‘It is Now Time for Change’

“We are tired of conversations around police accountability that go nowhere, and we have engaged in too many ‘listening sessions’ where we discuss whether there is a problem of police violence in this country. There is a problem,” emphasizes the Players Coalition letter. “The time for debate about the unchecked authority of the police is over; it is now time for change.

Change could come by virtue of an act of Congress; it might also come by way of the Supreme Court, which created and has since expanded the doctrine of qualified immunity. In Harlow v. Fitzgerald (1982), the Court held that “Henceforth, government officials performing discretionary functions generally are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate ‘clearly established’ statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”

The Players Coalition argues that “this standard is almost impossible to meet … [as] a plaintiff wins only if a prior Court found an official liable under a nearly identical fact-pattern.”

2 Support Court Justices Have Called For Reexamining the Qualified Immunity Doctrine

As for the chances of the Supreme Court addressing qualified immunity anew, two Justices—on the opposite ends of the political spectrum—have called for a reexamination of the doctrine.

As explained by Nina Totenberg, legal affairs correspondent for National Public Radio, Justice Sonia Sotomayor has long lamented how qualified immunity has become “an absolute shield for law enforcement officers.” Meanwhile, conservative Justice Clarence Thomas has “written that the doctrine was simply invented by judges without any historical basis.”

But it remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court will be willing to hear any of the qualified immunity cases that are currently pending. The Court sometimes prefers to “punt,” when it believes an issue would be best-addressed by lawmakers.

Either way, it’s clear the Players Coalition wants to see change—sooner rather than later.

“The Courts and elected officials alike have … shielded people who caused unspeakable harm,” concludes their letter. “Congress must not be complicit in these injustices, and it should take this important step to show that law enforcement abuse will not be tolerated.”

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