PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins continued his protest against social injustice Thursday by raising a fist over his head during the playing of the national anthem prior to the team’s preseason home game against the Buffalo Bills.
In an apparent show of support, defensive end Chris Long kept his hand on Jenkins’ back for the entire playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” then gave Jenkins a pat on the shoulder pads and a hug when the song was over.
A native of Charlottesville, Virginia, Long has been outspoken about the recent events in his hometown. He said earlier in the week that the protesters don’t represent the values of his hometown and called their actions “despicable.”
“I haven’t seen statistics, but I’d be willing to bet the vast majority of people voicing those white supremacist sentiments were from out of town,” he said. “The majority of the people that were defending our hometown against ideals like that were from Charlottesville, or students. It’s disheartening, but I really think it’s desperation for those folks to feel threatened by us doing the right thing.”
A source close to Jenkins told ESPN last week that he intended to demonstrate for the entire season.
“The protest itself is not the end all, be all,” Jenkins said at his locker stall Tuesday. “It’s not something I’m looking at to actually make a big change, and so that’s kind of why I went back and forth if I wanted to do it this year. But the one thing I didn’t want to do is stop publicly expressing my thoughts, and suddenly the conversation dies out and you lose that momentum. I think it’s important to continue to do the work behind the scenes but also continue to use the platform that I have to speak up and open our eyes about it.”
Jenkins raised a fist above his head during the anthem for all but one game in 2016; the exception was the regular-season opener against the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 11, out of respect for those who served and died on that day in 2001. Jenkins raised his fist during the anthem again last week before the preseason opener against the Green Bay Packers.
The pregame demonstrations were kick-started by quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who began sitting during the national anthem in the 2016 preseason before taking a knee for the final preseason contest and 16 regular-season games.
Sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter in March that Kaepernick would stand during the national anthem this upcoming season. He has not been signed by another team since opting out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers months ago, however.
“What happened to Charlottesville, to me, was not a starting point. … If you hadn’t seen a problem until the other day, then you’ve kind of been sleeping.”
Jenkins is one of several players who have continued the protest in Kaepernick’s absence. Others across the league have voiced their support for the cause and concern over whether Kaepernick is being blackballed as a result of his actions.
“Last year, the people who were against Kaepernick were probably making the most noise, and now you have the reverse,” Jenkins said. “So keeping him out of the league, you think that things are going to smooth over, but in actuality you’re having a bigger uproar from people who want to see him have a job, especially if him not having a job is solely on his political stance.”
Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett sat during the national anthem last Sunday before the Seahawks’ preseason opener against the Los Angeles Rams, in part because of the recent events in Charlottesville. Receiver Doug Baldwin, one of Bennett’s teammates, said he is considering joining Bennett in the demonstration. Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch remained seated during the national anthem before his team’s 20-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday.
Jenkins said he does not expect to see a large uptick in anthem protests as a result of what transpired in Charlottesville.
“What happened to Charlottesville, to me, was not a starting point,” he said. “To me, that would not be the point in which somebody would start to do the protest. That was a result of years and years of frustrations and battles that have been going on for a long time. Those are just kind of the results of the existence of hate, racism and prejudices that have long plagued America. So I don’t see people now trying to get involved in that, because if you hadn’t seen a problem until the other day, then you’ve kind of been sleeping.”
Jenkins has developed into one of the leaders of the NFL players’ off-the-field movement. He helps coordinate the efforts of a growing network of NFL players looking to get involved in social activism, has made multiple trips to Capitol Hill to speak with politicians about mass incarceration and police brutality, and has met with local law enforcement and participated in a ride-along with Philadelphia police.
While he wants his off-field efforts to be the primary focus, he feels the protests are still needed to bring attention to the issues of social injustice.
“As the blowback against those who stand up for what is right thickens, I feel it is necessary to push forward with a relentless determination,” he told ESPN in a statement last week. “I want to send a message that we will not easily be moved or deterred from fighting for justice.”