MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
There are more important things in life than catching footballs. Those are the words of Anquan Boldin, who retired from the NFL last year after 14 years as a wide receiver to focus on a new career - political activist. Boldin is co-founder of the Players Coalition. That's a group of player activists that emerged from the take-a-knee controversy. The Players Coalition gets funding from the NFL for its activities; among them - getting young people out to vote, which Anquan Boldin was working on just last night. He was back at Florida State in Tallahassee where he went to college to talk with current students. Anquan Boldin, hey there.
ANQUAN BOLDIN: Hey, how are you doing?
KELLY: Hey, I'm all right. How are you holding up down there? I guess the hurricane warnings didn't interrupt the proceedings down there.
BOLDIN: No. Just being from Florida, you're kind of used to a hurricane warning, so I think we'll be OK.
KELLY: Let me ask you, what was your pitch to students last night? How do you get young people to come out to vote? What do you say?
BOLDIN: Well, I think, first of all, you have to let them know that, No. 1, their vote counts. And you have to let them know that they have to be concerned about more than just the sport that they play. So I think...
KELLY: This was all athletes that you were talking to.
BOLDIN: Yes, it was all athletes.
BOLDIN: I think it's important for athletes to use their platform in the right way. But more so than just getting out to vote, I think you have to be knowledgeable about what you're voting for. I think a lot of the times the state and local elections that are sometimes even more important than your presidential elections because those are the elections that can really affect your day-to-day life.
KELLY: Well, I hope everybody's staying safe down there. Now, you have been active across a bunch of fronts. There's the op-ed that you co-wrote over the summer, along with several other pro football players. This was urging President Trump to use his clemency power to try to make a dent in the federal prison population. All of which leads me to ask a fairly basic question, but what would do things like getting out the right to vote or presidential pardon power have to do with football? I mean, why do we need to hear from the NFL on these issues?
BOLDIN: Well, I don't think it's so much of hearing from the NFL, but I do think you want to hear from the players who are everyday citizens. Just because we're athletes doesn't mean that we're not affected by the laws of the land. It doesn't mean that our family members aren't affected by what's going on.
KELLY: There have been a number of very high-profile - other athlete activists also fighting social injustice but doing it in a different way from you. I'm thinking of Colin Kaepernick, thinking of Eric Reid; both of whom have made a point not to join the Players Coalition. Are you in contact with them?
BOLDIN: We're not in contact with them at this point. There was a point in time where we were trying to do some things together, but that didn't work out. So we're not in contact at this point.
KELLY: Yeah. I'll mention to people following along, we've reached you on a not particularly great phone line in Florida, but I think people can hear enough of what you're saying. We'll carry on. Let me ask you why. Why are you pursuing, it sounds like, similar agendas, fighting for social justice, but not doing it together?
BOLDIN: Well, I think, you know, sometimes there's different ideas of how to go about things.
BOLDIN: But I will say that no matter how you decide to go about it, I think all of the work is important. What they're doing is important. The work that we're doing as a coalition is important, and we're all working towards the same cause.
KELLY: What change do you want to see inside the NFL?
BOLDIN: What I want to see is unrealistic, and that's to see people's hearts change towards these issues. There's a lot of people who try to deny what's really going on in our society. And I think if I had my way, everybody would see things the way that I see it you and that's to see that there is a specific group of people in our country that's not treated fairly. And my heart would be for everybody to see that and for everybody to work together and come up with solutions to try to rectify that problem.
KELLY: Do you support the right of current players to take a knee during the anthem?
BOLDIN: Of course. If a guy takes a knee in the NFL, it's a peaceful protest. But outside of the protest, you have to go and do the work. Protesting during the national anthem only brings attention to the issues. But then after you bring attention to the issues, you have to go out and address the issues and do the work to try to rectify them.
KELLY: That's Anquan Boldin, retired wide receiver and co-founder of the Players Coalition. We reached him driving in Florida. Anquan Boldin, thank you.
BOLDIN: No problem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.