Bristol, CT – A group of former National Football League players announced they will be starting a new professional football league that will encourage its players to speak out on social issues.
Ricky Williams, the former Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Texas who played 12 seasons in the NFL, made the announcement of the start-up league called the Freedom Football League on ESPN. The league would be played in the spring.
Williams said that, unlike the NFL, the start-up league would not have an issue with players commenting on social issues.
"We're trying to develop young men," Williams said on ESPN. "You can't take away their voice and expect them to develop. ... When I grew up watching football, I really wanted to be like Jim Brown, not because of what he did on a field, but because he could take that platform and have a voice. And so, when I got to the NFL expecting that to be the case, anytime a big social issue came up we were told: 'Be quiet ... It's a distraction.' And so really [we're] changing the conversation."
There was no starting date for the league, according to the New York Post. The league would have 10 teams in cities in California (San Diego, Oakland), Missouri (St. Louis), Alabama (Birmingham), Oklahoma (Oklahoma City), Oregon (Portland) and teams in unannounced cities in Texas, Florida, Ohio and Connecticut.
There are 100 stakeholders in the league, including former NFL star Terrell Owens, according to the New York Post.
Altogether, there are 50 former NFL players involved in the startup.
The Freedom Football League is one of three leagues that are in the works. The Alliance of American Football will start in February, and the XFL will be back in February 2020, according to the New York Post.