PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins continued his protest of social injustice Thursday by raising a fist over his head during the playing of the national anthem before the team’s preseason home game against the Buffalo Bills.
In a 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.
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Chris and Kyle Long, who grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia, watched in dismay as their hometown was besieged by violence and hate rallies over the weekend. The brothers say the community will not be defined by those actions and will emerge stronger.
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“I’ve heard a lot of people say you need white athletes to get involved in the anthem protests. I’ve said before I’ll never kneel for an anthem because the flag means something different for everybody in this country, but I support my peers,” Long said. “And if you don’t see why you need allies for people that are fighting for equality right now, I don’t think you’ll ever see it. So my thing is, Malcolm is a leader and I’m here to show support as a white athlete.”
A native of Charlottesville, Virginia, Long has been outspoken about the recent events in his hometown. Earlier in the week, he called the actions of the violent protestors “despicable.”
“I was inspired by a lot of the allies that were there to stand up against hate in my hometown, and I wasn’t able to be there to protest or to stand up against hate. People like Heather Heyer gave their lives for that, and I was inspired by that,” he said. “So it’s just telling Malcolm, I am here for you, and I think it’s a good time for people who look like me to be here for people fighting for equality.”
In another show of support for Jenkins, Eagles cornerback Ron Brooks kneeled during the anthem, video showed. Brooks did not dress for the game because of a hamstring injury. Last year, Brooks joined Jenkins in raising a fist for multiple weeks before being sidelined by a ruptured quad tendon.
Long approached Jenkins before the game to tell him about his desire to show support during the anthem. After getting an understanding for the message Long wished to convey, Jenkins agreed.
“I think it is important to show, especially for a white male to show that although these problems don’t necessarily affect you, you can still see the significance in it, you can still be in support of your brothers that are going through it,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins raised a fist above his head for all but one game in 2016 — the exception being 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 — and did so again before the preseason opener against the Green Bay Packers last week. A source close to Jenkins told ESPN last week that he intended to demonstrate for the entire season.
Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett sat during the national anthem last Sunday before their preseason opener against the Los Angeles Rams in part because of the recent events in Charlottesville. His teammate, receiver Doug Baldwin, says he is considering joining Bennett in the demonstration. Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch remained seated during the national anthem before the team’s 20-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday.
Earlier this week, 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. To me, that would not be the point in which somebody would start to do the protest,” he said. “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.”
The original 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, while others across the league have voiced their support for the cause and concern over whether the quarterback 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.”
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 local law enforcement and participated in a ride-along with Philadelphia police.
While he wants to 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.”