There is never a perfect time to protest.
That said, three days after multiple officers were shot in Philadelphia in an anti-police rampage really doesn’t feel like the right time for players from the Philadelphia Eagles to hold a demonstration during the national anthem.
And yet, a day after the Philly FOP confirmed they are backing Donald Trump for president feels like, if ever, the perfect time.
That’s where we are today, as football has once again bled right through the sports page and into the general news cycle. Whether it’s the right time or not, some Eagles— who admitted this week they discussed the option but chose not to protest during the national anthem on 9/11 — will hold a demonstration in front of a national-television audience on Monday Night Football.
“If you’re ever trying to change anything, there’s no comfortable way to change anything,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins told reporters before the team left for Chicago. “So, if somebody gets upset, it’s probably because they’re not listening.”
When Eagles media wasn’t yapping on and on about quarterback Carson Wentz this week, they were listening, for a few minutes at least, to what Jenkins had to say. And while Jenkins was clear his protest is not anti-police, there are millions of Americans — including the police in some NFL cities, like Miami — who view the groundswell of support for 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick as exactly that. Given what happened on Friday night in Philly, this decision comes off a little tone deaf, whether the intention for the demonstration is anti-police or not.
When asked about the team’s stance on the matter, head coach Doug Pederson said he, himself, would consider participating in a demonstration (note: he did not use the word protest) if the entire team was involved.
“If it was team-wide, if they wanted to do something team-wide, I’d definitely be for that,” Pederson said before practice Saturday, via NBC10.com. “I think it shows unity and there’s no division that way, and I think it sends a great message that from our standpoint, the National Football League and the platform and the individuals, we love this country and what it represents and the flag and the national anthem and everything.”
Listening to Lane Johnson, who was interviewed at the airport by CSN Philly’s Derrick Gunn, Pederson and his “we love this country and everything” stance looks to be off the hook, as it doesn’t sound like the whole team is up for this demonstration.
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Jenkins has been the most outspoken Eagles player when it comes to the anthem protests, sparked by Kaepernick quietly refusing to stand for the song during a few preseason games. As the regular season began, Kaepernick went from sitting on the bench to kneeling next to his teammates. Some other players have kneeled too, not just on the 49ers, as the conversation spreads to every NFL market, and across the entire country.
“I think if you look at the guys around the league, and all the guys who have been protesting or demonstrating, if you listen, the message has been the same across the board,” Jenkins told reporters. “I thought I was very clear when I said it is not an anti-police thing. In fact, I think the police are a key part of the solution in this issue across the nation.”
Some players chose to raise a gloved fist while they stood, raising the same issue as Kaepernick without the backlash of “not standing.” Still others — entire teams, even — have taken part in demonstrations by locking arms.
Jenkins said the Eagles will not be doing that. He wasn’t sure what the team would do this week, or at least he wasn’t telling the media, but it is not kneeling and it is not, for sure, locking arms.
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The gesture itself almost doesn’t matter; at least not as much as the conversation. Jenkins knows that the more he talks about a planned demonstration, the more reporters will encircle his locker, thereby taking at least a few cameras and microphones away from his rookie quarterback, while also helping — across the league and across the country — to change a conversation.
“We understand that people will get upset and that’s part of it. That’s what makes you guys put these cameras in my face.” Jenkins said. “And that’s what keeps this conversation going.”
You may disagree with players taking a knee during our national anthem — hell, I may disagree with it — but the conversation that has sprung from that action is a critical one.
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It’s important to listen to Jenkins. Hear his entire message, above, not just the 20-second sound bites clipped by TV. Jenkins supports Kaepernick, but he doesn’t necessarily agree with him on how to go about change. Kaepernick is focused on helping his community, and while he has come out and said, repeatedly, his protest is not anti-military, it’s clear in his words that he is, in some ways, anti-police.
Jenkins made sure to say he supports the local police, is working with law enforcement and hopes to do the same with elected officials to start changing the system, not just the conversation.
Talk is great, but at some point, Jenkins knows we’re all going to stop listening.
Michael Sam was the biggest story in sports when he came into the NFL as the first openly-gay player. Many people, myself included, thought Sam’s story would help create a culture that could finally make it safe for closeted gay athletes to come out. And while there are more openly-gay athletes in college and high school since Sam’s NFL news cycle has spun out, there isn’t one — not one — in the NFL right now. Sam was cut, twice, and we just moved on from the story. Sure, it should be easier for the next player to come out, but given Sam’s career path, coupled with the lack of any gay players to follow him, it’s hard to think any change came from that at all.
That can’t happen here.
Kaepernick may not play a meaningful snap this season, but his actions — and those of Jenkins and the many other players in the league — need to have meaning.
People have a right to feel safe, not just from rampaging gunman, neighborhood bombers and knife-wielding maniacs at the mall, but from those who have taken the oath to protect and serve the rest of us.
No one should live in fear of being shot if a routine speeding stop goes horribly wrong. No one should be saddled, in 2016, with thinking they don’t have the same rights because of the color of their skin, the texture of their hair, the clothes they wear. It’s unacceptable, and until the conversation in the NFL shifts from players “disrespecting the troops” — a fallacy perpetuated by those too uncomfortable (or too stupid) to have an adult conversation about what life is like for millions of American in this country right now — to the problems many communities have with the way our system supports them, the demonstrations should continue.
The demonstrations need to continue.
Sports have long been an avenue for social change, and while Colin Kaepernick is by no means Muhammad Ali, his action has led to a growing number of reactions.
A conversation that started with a back-up quarterback being called every racist name in the book because he sat on the bench during a song about America has turned into a national conversation. Megan Rapinoe kneeled while playing for the U.S. national team. The President of the United States has weighed in on the issue. The Commissioner of the NFL is asked about it in every interview (note: he’s probably happy about it; this way he gets fewer questions about concussions or flat balls) and the conversation is almost starting to turn from why some players choose to protest to why other players may chose not to.
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Jenkins and his teammates won’t be protesting the police on Monday Night Football. Nor will they be turning their backs on the military. Instead, their action will serve as a catalyst for a conversation; one the players need to continue in hopes the people who really need to listen hear what’s being said.