By DAN GELSTON AP Sports Writer
Raised in Philly, Meek Mill never attended an Eagles game growing up, much less tossed footballs inside the team’s practice facility.
Given the chance to show off his arm, the 35-year-old rapper and philanthropist lined up some area kids and had them go deep on the same field where the best team in the NFL trains. Meek Mill short-armed a wobbly pass that sailed about 20 yards and was hauled in by a kid to resounding cheers.
Let’s just say Jalen Hurts’ job is safe.
“He’s almost as unathletic as I am,” Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin teased Meek.
Meek Mill and Rubin shared laughs Tuesday at an outing arranged to brighten the day for children from families caught in the criminal justice system. Rubin, who recently sold his stake in the Philadelphia 76ers, co-founded the Reform Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to probation, parole and sentencing reform in the United States. Meek Mill, whose well-publicized prison sentence for minor probation violations became a lightning rod for the issue, is co-chairman of the organization.
His case grabbed the attention of criminal justice reform advocates after a judge in Pennsylvania sentenced him to two to four years in prison for violations of his probation conditions in a decade-old gun and drug possession case. He was incarcerated for months before a court ordered him released in 2018. Meek Mill successfully resumed his recording career and recently held a 10-year anniversary concert that celebrated his debut album “Dreams And Nightmares.” He’s been a big opening act of late, performing the title track and underdog anthem before Eagles games and at the World Series.
“I’ve got purpose on top of everything I’m doing,” Meek Mill said. “Before I went to prison, of course I was famous, of course I was making money feeding my family, but the purpose I have now, it actually started from the way people supported me.”
Meek Mill formed a friendship with Rubin and the billionaire became an ally in freeing him from prison. While Meek Mill was in prison, activists, celebrities and demonstrators rallied in 2017 for his release.
“When I seen that with my own eyes, that type of support, which I never had in my life, I wanted to make sure I give that same support back to the world,” Meek Mill said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Born Robert Rihmeek Williams, he is now free of the court supervision he’s been under most of his adult life.
To their credit, years after Meek Mill’s release, the rapper and the mogul have remained steadfast in advocating for criminal justice reform. The Reform Alliance said the group has been responsible for 16 bills passed in 10 states that resulted in changes to probation and parole laws. Meek Mill was even honored in 2019 in his hometown of Philadelphia for his work as a criminal justice reform advocate and as a musician.
“We’ve actually created a pathway for 650,000 people to get out of the system already,” Rubin said. “And we’re just getting started. It’s hard to make change.”
Meek Mill and members of the Eagles including Darius Slay, Jordan Mailata, coach Nick Sirianni and general manager Howie Roseman mingled with 35 kids, took photos and ran combine drills. The kids signed honorary one-day contracts with the team.
“You’re all 12-1 for the day,” Sirianni said.
The kids moved across the street to the Wells Fargo Center and quizzed Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers on the usual hoops-themed topics. Allen Iverson or Steph Curry? Who’s your favorite player? But there were more serious inquiries about how to land internships and how to push through in a life that can be littered with hardships.
“You have the right to happiness and to smile and do everything you want in life,” Rivers told the kids. “These people here, Meek, Michael and everybody back here are here to tell you that there’s people in your corner. We’re going to fight for you. Fight for your families to make sure that one of you may be sitting here some day giving the same speech. Or one of you can be a doctor, a lawyer, an athlete. Whatever you want.”
Megan Parke spent almost three years in prison and gave birth to her son, Amir, while in jail. She was freed when he was 2½ years old and the family has settled in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Parke was on probation and hit with a technical violation, which in Pennsylvania means she had specifically violated one of the terms of her probation plan. Parke, who still has two years left on probation, said she was lucky the judge didn’t send her back to prison. She said Reform has offered her resources that could aid her and her case should problems arise in the future.
“That’s him right there,” she said, pointing at the 5-year-old boy running around the NFL complex. “He’s just so excited. These days just really mean a lot.”
Those memories are part of what it’s all about for Meek Mill. He missed Eagles games as a kid but once attended on a school trip a taping of “The Randall Cunningham Show.”
“That was a highlight I’ll remember forever,” Meek Mill said. “With kids, I’m always doubling back, make sure I touch back to the people just like myself.”