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Malcolm Jenkins helping NFL players make off-the-field strides in fight against social injustice

Philadelphia Eagles strong safety Malcolm Jenkins takes part

Philadelphia Eagles strong safety Malcolm Jenkins takes part in a media availability for the NFL Super Bowl 52 football game Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018, in Minneapolis. Credit: AP / Eric Gay

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Malcolm Jenkins will simply stand on the sideline with the rest of his teammates during the national anthem preceding Super Bowl LII. He will not raise his right fist, as he did during most of the regular season. He’ll simply stand at attention.

Jenkins’ message has been heard, the NFL has responded by investing nearly $100 million in the social justice causes for which the Eagles’ Pro Bowl safety continues to advocate, and it’s time to move on. At least in terms of the polarizing issue of protests during the anthem.

An issue that has roiled Americans and contributed to a decline in popularity of the NFL no longer will elicit the strong reactions on both sides, at least when it comes to anthem etiquette. All players from the Eagles and Patriots have stood at attention for the playing of the anthem throughout the playoffs, and that is expected to be the case on Sunday.

But it doesn’t mean Jenkins’ mission is complete.

“I don’t see it slowing down,” he said during Thursday’s media availability in advance of Super Bowl LII. “That’s the funny thing about it. It’s not like you get involved for one year and you go home and chill out. I don’t see this slowing down.”

For Jenkins, it has been the best of both worlds. On the one hand, his effort to draw attention to societal issues, particularly what he sees as inequities in the criminal justice system, has helped convince a large group of players to advocate for that and other causes. It also has prompted the NFL to respond by committing nearly $100 million to various groups that address civic problems.

On the other hand, he’s in position to win a second Super Bowl championship.

“It’s been a year where a lot has gotten accomplished on and off the field,” said Jenkins, who played for the Saints when they beat the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV after the 2009 season. “It’s just a special season, more so to see the success of all the players, the work that they’ve done and the fact that they’ve turned into something special.”

Jenkins has been the subject of withering criticism from the many fans who believe that players shouldn’t demonstrate during the anthem and that the raising of a fist or taking a knee is disrespectful of the military. But he has remained steadfast in his belief that his intention wasn’t to denigrate those who serve the country but to draw attention to issues that affect those less fortunate.

It’s what attracted teammate Chris Long to Jenkins. Long’s eventual participation in Jenkins’ protest — the defensive end, who is white, stood next to Jenkins, who is black, with a hand on his shoulder — drew the two closer together in their mutual goal of improving the lives of others.

“We’re trying to tackle some of the root causes of poverty, our criminal justice system,” said Long, who donated his entire 2017 base salary of $1 million to educational charities. “To me, it’s no different than guys trying to tackle some of the symptoms of poverty on a regular basis when they got out into their communities. I know it’s been polarizing, but I think people see at the end of the day that most of the stuff is stuff that we can agree on.”

Their relationship developed naturally early in the season.

“Malcolm and I didn’t know each other when I got here, and we have some overlapping interests,” said Long, who won the Super Bowl last year with the Patriots. “Listen, we’re on the same team. We spend a lot of time together. We don’t have to agree on every minutiae as far as social justice is concerned, but we overlap on so much that we decided we can be really productive if we work together. He’s done a great job of accomplishing real action, and he included a lot of players. I’ve been excited to be a part of it.”

Long already has said he won’t visit the White House if the Eagles win the Super Bowl. Jenkins hasn’t said what he will do if an invitation is offered.

First things first.

“The focus is on the game,” Jenkins said.

But serving others always will be in his thoughts. And his heart.

“For me, [helping people] has been my inspiration,” he said. “That’s what I feel a call to do. That’s what my spirit tells me to do.”

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