Malcolm Jenkins heard what President Donald Trump had to say Friday. He heard Trump encourage NFL owners to release players who protest during the national anthem.
It was all pretty familiar.
“Honestly, it’s one of those things that it’s no different than a troll on social media that I’ve been dealing with for a whole year,” Jenkins said. “That same rhetoric is what I hear on a daily basis. It hits other people close to home when you see your teammate or a player across the league that you know is a great person, who’s out there trying to do their part building our communities and making our communities greater, being attacked. I think that’s why you saw the response that you did. Mostly from guys who hadn’t been protesting or doing whatever already.
“But for me, it was just more of what’s been happening. Nothing anybody can say is going to stop me or deter me from being committed to bringing people together, impacting our communities in a positive way and being that voice of reason.”
Trump’s comments Friday in Alabama set off even more protests from around the NFL on Sunday (see story). The day started with the Jaguars and Ravens locking arms. The Steelers didn’t even come out of the locker room for the anthem.
And the Eagles took part too.
Players, coaches and front office executives locked arms as Navy Petty Officer First Class (retired) Generald Wilson began to belt out the Star-Spangled Banner. The Eagles decided Sunday morning to hold the demonstration. Head coach Doug Pederson called it “an organizational decision.” Owner Jeff Lurie, team president Don Smolenski and vice president of football operations Howie Roseman were among those who joined.
“It meant a lot,” said Jenkins, who has been raising his fist during the anthem for a year to protest against racial injustice. “I know Mr. Lurie specifically doesn’t go on the field much, so for him to be down there and showing their support in their own ways in important. I was happy to see that league-wide.”
Jenkins has continued his demonstration this year and has been somewhat joined by teammates Chris Long and Rodney McLeod, who have been placing their arms around him in a showing of support.
It seemed like the entire team sort of did that Sunday.
“It was nice that it was a team effort,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “That’s what we wanted. We just wanted a team effort of everybody standing up for the right thing.
“It was good that we all did it as a team, because I just don’t like how they single people out and make it about one or a couple people or a group of people. I’m happy we did it as a team because I back those guys that are putting their career out there. It’s tough. You get backlash, people start judging you a certain type of way, and to do it as a team, that’s a credit to our owner, and I appreciate that.”
For what it’s worth, President Trump on Sunday condoned locking arms. He tweeted: “Great solidarity for our National Anthem and for our Country. Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable. Bad ratings!”
It was clearly Trump’s comments Friday that spawned Sunday’s near-league-wide demonstration. His comments also elicited responses from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the NFLPA and many NFL owners, including Lurie.
“It’s just really a distraction,” right tackle Lane Johnson said. “I don’t like to get involved in politics and I don’t think politicians should get involved in sports. It just creates a lot of noise and distraction that takes away from your main goal of winning games.”
“It was interesting,” Long said of Trump’s comments. “It was interesting that he was so occupied with us.”
Because of Trump’s comments, Long said, “we’re kind of also now protesting the right to protest, which you wouldn’t think you’d have to do in this country.”
The only Eagles player who noticeably didn’t partake in the showing of unity on Sunday was linebacker Mychal Kendricks. The veteran linebacker claimed his non-participation wasn’t some sort of political statement.
“Don’t think too deep into that,” he said.
When asked, in the wake of increased demonstrations, if Trump’s comments backfired, Jenkins wasn’t ready to say that. But he did think Sunday served as a chance to make the demonstrations something that brought unity instead of divisiveness.
So what’s next for the NFL?
“I’m not sure,” Jenkins said. “I know there are multiple guys who have been behind the scenes doing work. Hopefully, we can continue to highlight that and hopefully, it’s not a one-week thing. We also know it’s not about the protest, it’s not about the national anthem. It’s really about effecting change in our communities.
“Hopefully, just like today was a collaborative effort of everybody pulling their resources to send messages and to bring people together, hopefully, that can continue on a micro level in each NFL city, each community and we can really break some walls down and makes some changes.”