May 31, 2018
Malcolm Jenkins is frustrated.
The Eagles' Pro Bowl (and two-time Super Bowl champion) safety has dedicated himself to two things over the last several years in Philadelphia: playing football and standing up for what he believes in.
The latter took quite the blow last week, as the NFL announced — after getting considerable political pressure from the Trump administration — that players would cost their teams a penalty and fine if they demonstrate during the National Anthem next season. This after Jenkins, Rodney McLeod and others in the league decided to suspend their protests following what they deemed to be fruitful talks with the league to help shine a spotlight on issues affecting the black community.
"Even the wording they were using, 'respectfully standing for the anthem' plays into a narrative that distracts and derails the movement the players have started," Jenkins told a small group of reporters after OTAs wrapped up earlier this week. "It's definitely discouraging because I thought we were moving to a place where players wanted a platform and we could create something that was more effective and better. A ton of effort has been put into that but this decision undermines that. When you start trying to mandate things, it feels less like you're helping and more like you're just shutting us up."
Jenkins and the Eagles will be among the first teams to take the field when the season kicks off Sept. 6 at home against the Falcons on Thursday Night Football. The 30-year-old New Jersey native says he doesn't know exactly what he will do when the season starts. Players, according to the rule passed, are allowed to stay in the locker room during the anthem and will not be disciplined, but if they are on the field the NFL expects them to stand and not demonstrate.
Jenkins acknowledged that just as any employer has a right to make a rule about employee conduct, the fact that not a single player was consulted is a point that angers him.
"They could have just done nothing," Jenkins said, when asked if there was a better solution out there. "I don’t think many people were still demonstrating. Many guys had started to turn their focus to the work and how they could help their communities. When you talk about supporting the players and the cause, applying the reason we are protesting is far more productive than trying to thwart those efforts."
Jenkins is one of many players uncomfortable with the environment between the NFL and the players.
"I don’t like it honestly but I understand what they're trying to protect and I understand what the NFL is about," newly signed veteran wide receiver Mike Wallace said. "I don’t like it because it singles people out but we will work through it like we work through everything. It’s a touchy situation. I understand it affects everyone and everyone has different opinions about things."
Several times during the season in 2017, Jenkins stated that he was looking forward to not having to protest to get attention for his issues. It seems like the NFL may be forcing players to make decisions they wouldn't have had to make otherwise.
So after feeling like he accomplished something — the NFL agreed to spend $90 million on player activism last winter — it's hard to say where the ebbs and flows of the struggle currently stand.
"The demonstrations were in fact very effective, here we are three years later still having conversation about it," Jenkins said of the movement started by still unemployed quarterback Colin Kaepernick. "Even though it gets confusing sometimes we are still having that dialogue. We still haven’t found a way to do it that creates this much buzz, or a platform that has the same weight. We will continue to see what we have at our disposal to try and stay on message about systemic racism, about our criminal justice system, about police brutality, about a lack of education... if the anthem takes the cameras to me, so be it.
"Everyone is processing it, what that means, what does it look like?" Jenkins continued. "Guys in our league don’t like being told what to do. What they can and can’t do. We don’t have these types of policies for the other causes we support, salute to service or breast cancer awareness, it’s just when you start talking about black folks quite frankly. It’s disheartening frankly but we will continue to be creative."
There was one more thing Jenkins wanted made clear, as he graciously stood and answered questions that related very little to the Philadelphia Eagles for more than a half hour. It was that he did not approve of protesting for the sake of protesting.
"After Trump made his comments we went from like 9 guys to over 200 (demonstrating)," he said. "I hope the focus of the guys who want to get involved isn’t about our right as players to protest. That’s not out purpose. It's about standing up for our communities."
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