By Rory Carroll
(Reuters) - NFL greats Tom Brady and Anquan Boldin were among dozens of prominent players and coaches who called on Friday for a federal investigation into the death of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man who was shot while running in Georgia.
State investigators arrested a white former police officer, Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis, 34, on Thursday and charged with them with murder and aggravated assault in the Feb. 23 killing in the small coastal town of Brunswick.
Video of the incident surfaced on social media earlier this week and ignited outrage among activists who saw the death of Arbery, 25, as the latest U.S. case of white perpetrators killing a black man and going unpunished.
"We have all now seen the video depicting the final moments of this young man's life and the way in which the McMichaels stalked Mr. Arbery like prey," the Players Coalition co-founder Boldin said in an open letter to Attorney General William Barr, asking him to intervene in the case.
"His only crime: running while black."
The letter, signed by 64 players and coaches, called for the Department of Justice and the FBI to lead the investigation, saying the local police force and jury pool were compromised. The suspects were not charged until weeks after the killing, and two prosecutors have recused themselves from the case due to their connections with the elder McMichael, who also worked as an investigator for a local district attorney's office.
If the DOJ turned its back on this "obvious injustice," the coalition's letter said, it "will relinquish its role as the champion for the defenseless and send the unmistakable message that the federal government will not protect us from violence, prejudice, and injustice in our communities."
Among those shocked by the footage from Brunswick - which shows Arbery jogging past the McMichaels' pickup truck before a shot is fired and then struggling with a man holding a long gun before more shots are heard - were sports legends Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James and NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson.
"We're literally hunted EVERYDAY/EVERYTIME we step foot outside the comfort of our homes! Can't even go for a damn jog man!" James wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.
"Ahmaud and his family and friends should have been celebrating his 26th birthday today," Johnson tweeted on Friday. "Prayers and thoughts for the Arbery family."
(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Daniel Wallis)