BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Malcolm Jenkins sat at a podium discussing what bothers him and many other NFL players.
The Eagles’ safety wants social change and for people to start listening.
Maybe it was fitting this week as the Eagles safety talked to reporters a black backpack with the words ‘Revolution’ in white lettering lay behind him.
As the NFL season closes with Super Bowl LII on Sunday between the Eagles and the Patriots, the NFL players, more than ever before, have become more vocal about what upsets them away from the field.
“You can’t expect to go about change, especially change of this nature, especially when you’re talking about racial equality, you can’t expect to engage in that without resistance and you’re going to have some people who are not on board with it,” said Jenkins.
Players began to express themselves in 2016 after then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started taking a knee in the preseason to protest police brutality and other social ills. Kaepernick explained his reasoning for the protests and it opened the eyes of several players who joined the cause, such as running back Marshawn Lynch who sat down during the national anthem.
NFL owners believed the issues would go away once the 2017 season started, but it didn’t. Kaepernick, after he opted out of his contract, wasn’t signed by any NFL team for the 2017 season. It raised questions about owners, that if you protest it will be held against you.
However in Philadelphia, Jenkins elected to raise a fist protesting social ills and it opened a conversation with Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie. Jenkins took Lurie to several low income areas in Philadelphia to show him the differences between affluent communities and poor ones. The Patriots Devin McCourty did the same with team owner Robert Kraft.
“And you look around now, you look around and you’ve got like four or five different guys in the player’s coalition that have done different things that are playing in the Super Bowl,” McCourty said. “So you can do both. Players have shown throughout the years, whether it be community service work, charities, that you can do more than just play football.”
Eagles defensive end Chris Long donated $1 million base salary to charitable organizations.
“I have a big platform and I feel if I play 10 years in the NFL and had a good career and didn’t do anything off the field, I feel like it would have been a waste,” Long said. “I get a lot out of it selfishly feeling good about doing stuff off the field. People don’t remember your career really unless you’re a Hall of Famer probably. People remember what you do off the field.”
Jets quarterback Josh McCown along with several of his teammates went to the Bronx with team chairman Christopher Johnson to discuss mentoring people from poorer neighborhoods.
“When people are doing things for kids, your raising money for natural disasters, nobody considers that a distraction,” Jenkins said. “It’s only when you’re talking about racism or police brutality, then all of a sudden those things are uncomfortable and so people label those as a distraction. It’s no different than any other cause that people stand up for.”
So what do NFL players want going forward?
For one thing, the NFL has pledged more than $90 million to social causes and that’s prompted several players to become more confident with the future of the league.
“I think you could look back to the late 1960s and 1970s when social activism really to begin talked about especially in sports,” McCown said. “But I think social media has changed it. It’s allowed players and their beliefs to be put out there and to see it is great because it’s awesome to see guys from different backgrounds that care about different things and want to bring some good. Because ultimately that’s the key. No matter what it is, guys are genuinely trying to get involved for the right reasons and they want to see good happen in their communities.”