Philadelphia Eagles standout Malcolm Jenkins has been very vocal about issues concerning the African American community.
What Philadelphia Eagles All-Pro safety Malcolm Jenkins understands that apparently myriad others don’t is this: If you aren’t at the table, you’re on the menu.
That’s why some found it puzzling that Jenkins, who should have been able to spend Dec. 1 and 2 preparing to lead the Eagles against a fierce Seattle opponent that beat them on Dec. 3, felt the need to carve out time to pen an “Open Letter” letter explaining to millions of sideline social-media civil rights activist that he is not a “sellout.”
No NFL player has been more proactive than Jenkins during this ugly-but-necessary cultural tug-of-war that is the NFL players’ refusal to stand during the playing of the national anthem. Initiated by Colin Kaepernick, the former quarterback is out of the league now. He was fully cognizant that his stance jeopardized potentially millions in salary and endorsements, but like Malcolm X, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Medger Evers and others who sacrificed their lives during the civil rights movement, he too, I believe, knew the associated risks.
Someone was needed to take the baton from Kaeperick and that person has been Jenkins. The protest was always about police shooting Black men and social and law-enforcement issues that disproportionately impact African Americans, but, with the help of a president who never misses an opportunity to cast Blacks as hostile ingrates, it has been morphing into a faux attack on the military and patriotism.
As part of his protest, Jenkins has held up a clenched fist during the anthem. He has consulted with military personnel regularly as a means to ensure that the protests remained respectful, yet he has an ear for the Black Lives Matter movement. He has done ride-alongs with Philly police, spoken in Washington and Harrisburg with politicians to guarantee that the message reached those capable of helping to implement change, and met with billionaire owners to take the grievances right to their doorsteps. These are the conversations that have to happen if change is to ever occur. And who knows, maybe one of those conversations will be the conduit that re-connects Kaepernick to an NFL job in the future. After all, if there is no dialogue, just anger, nothing, as we’ve seen, gets accomplished
Along the way, Jenkins and retired wide receiver Anquan Boldin were designated to represent the Players Coalition, a group responsible for amplifying the many concerns of the players, concerns that are the critical issues resonating in the Black community that Kaepernick, who knows this is about more than his getting a job, has identified as important to him.
Two weeks ago, in what should have been viewed as progress, the organization’s work resulted in owners committing $89 million over the next seven years to “address social issues considered important to African-American communities,” namely education, criminal justice and law enforcement. At roughly $12 million annually, the proposal is the largest financial commitment toward a charitable cause in league history, larger even than its flagship Breast Cancer Awareness and Salute to Service campaigns.
Jenkins agreed to stop protesting, and it is clear that the owners prefer the anthem protests to end. However, the cessation of the protests was not part of the deal; players are allowed to continue protesting the anthem and many of them will.
Unfortunately, some players have since disassociated themselves from the group, saying that Jenkins and Bouldin are no longer qualified to speak for them. And somehow, out in the world of Black social media, Jenkins and Bouldin, the men responsible for doing the work that must take place after the chicness of the Sunday protests wears off, were transformed into the recipients of hush money, even though there is complete transparency regarding the money – none of which went into any player’s pockets.
San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid has been the most vocal dissenter, saying for his faction that Jenkins and Bouldin can no longer speak on their behalf as they don’t represent their best interests.
In his letter, Jenkins talks about the real work of the organization beginning in the summer of 2016, when Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were shot and killed by police in two high-profile incidents in Baton Rouge and a suburb of Saint Paul, Minnesota, respectively. That was the launching pad, and it gave them the platform they currently have – which has a chance to continue growing.
Jenkins went on to acknowledge that this is a first step and that it’s not going to solve the problems in this country, and he’s right. But he also understands that the mindset that led to those police shootings and the exclusion of Kaepernick from the NFL won’t just go away. They must be chipped away incrementally, every day, by any means necessary.
And the only way that is going to happen is to be seated at the table.
John N. Mitchell has worked as a journalist for more than a quarter century. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and Tweet at @freejohnmitchel.