Malcolm Jenkins raises his fist during the national anthem of a 2016 Eagles game.

Malcolm Jenkins raises his fist during the national anthem of a 2016 Eagles game.

James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Long’s national anthem moment show a unity this country needs

Jenkins raised a fist. Long embraced him. Some Americans are upset.

Malcolm Jenkins raises his fist during the national anthem of a 2016 Eagles game.

Malcolm Jenkins raises his fist during the national anthem of a 2016 Eagles game.

James Lang-USA TODAY Sports
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Malcolm Jenkins raised his first during the national anthem at Thursday night’s Eagles game. His teammate, Chris Long, embraced him. People are upset, and that’s the point.

The gesture was premeditated. Long, a native of Charlottesville, who has been very outspoken about the riots in his hometown this week, talked with Jenkins before the game to lend support and figure out some way to show unity.

Long has said all week he doesn’t see this as a political conversation, not when it comes to what happened in his hometown. The racial divide in this country seems the widest in years, and if raising a fist or sitting on the bench during a song is going to get people talking about the reasons why, then maybe more people should start showing support, too. It’s about America, and respect for all Americans.

Jenkins isn’t raising his first during the national anthem because he hates America. Colin Kaepernick doesn’t hate America either, but his decision to kneel during the anthem last season and his decision to speak about about the racial inequality he sees in this country have kept him jobless this summer. Kaepernick has been blackballed from the NFL, not because he isn’t a good quarterback, but because 32 teams don’t think he’s good enough to warrant the added distraction.

Think about that every time you see a mediocre backup like Matt McGloin struggle this preseason. He has a job as an NFL quarterback and Kaepernick doesn’t.

Jenkins doesn’t have to worry about job security because, for one he’s not a quarterback, so even as a leader of the Eagles defense, his profile is far lower than the guy with the ball in his hands every play. For two, he is a really good safety. That helps.

Jenkins started raising his fist last year and has opted to continue this season. Others, like Marshawn Lynch, who returned to the NFL after a year off, chose to sit on the bench during the anthem this week. For none of them is this about disrespecting America. It’s about pointing out inequalities. And mostly, it’s about continuing to have that conversation, even when people seem to be totally missing the point.

 

Look, maybe it’s low-hanging fruit to pick off one tweet in protest of Jenkins’ protest, but she replied to us during the game last night, and it’s comments like this — there are thousands of comments like this —  that serve to undercut the root of the problem and the need for these demonstrations in the first place.

Yes, Malcolm Jenkins is a millionaire. Yes, Kaepernick made more than $40 million in his six seasons with the 49ers. But no, Mary, most non-millionaires would not get fired from their jobs if they protested while on company time if that protest was quietly kneeling to the side or holding up one hand for 90 seconds while other people sang a song.

“Hey, Colin, we’re all in the conference room wishing happy birthday to Barb. Show up and sing or you’re fired.”

Jenkins, Kaepernick, Lynch and the growing number of NFL players who have chosen to silently protest during the national anthem aren’t actually doing their jobs at the time of the protest. Like, if Jenkins really wanted to protest he’d sit down on the field as soon as the ball was snapped. That would make headlines. It would also get him pulled from the field and, yes, probably fired. Because his job is playing football, not standing at attention while some local celebrity over-sings a tune about how great this country is.

This country is broken and it’s never going to get unbroken if we don’t respect people trying to point out some of the things that need fixing. And that’s not a political statement.

Nowhere in the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement is there a stipulation about standing during the national anthem. Nowhere does it say you can’t raise your first during the song. Nowhere, in the entire document, does it make reference to the anthem at all. That’s only part of the NFL player’s jobs because fans want their favorite players to act and think just like them. So it makes it easier to cheer when they make a play.

From a football standpoint, Kaepernick may never play again, but from a societal standpoint, he’s become the most important player in the league. And with him not on the sidelines, players like Jenkins have chosen to continue their personal protests in hopes that conversation — this conversation — continues.

Whether you agree with what Jenkins does during the anthem or not — or maybe you just don’t care and wish we’d all #StickToSports — ask yourself this: How many times have you planned your beer run to get back to your seat just before kickoff? How many times have you run to the bathroom or to grab a snack and got caught on the concourse during the anthem? Do you stop, remove your hat and honor America?

If you do (and I actually do) you’ll notice the thousands of people around you still talking in the food lines, ordering their snacks or joking around when they sneak into the bathroom. Ticket takers don’t always stop letting people into the building. People in the stadium don’t always put their phones down during the song.

It’s okay to honor America by checking Snapchat, but not by sitting on the bench? It’s okay to honor our country by grabbing a couple of Buds because you were next in line during the dawn’s early light?

That’s all okay, but raising a fist in protest isn’t?

Americans have taken the national anthem for granted for decades.

I didn’t always think this way. When I was in high school I actually called in to a local radio station — Mike Missanelli’s old show on WIP — to talk about Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf protesting the national anthem during NBA games. Abdul-Rauf was suspended by the NBA and fined more than $31,000 each time he sat during the song. I thought people should stand, if not out of respect for the country then out of respect for the other people who did want to honor America. My logic was that people at hockey games stand during the Canadian national anthem out of respect for our friends to the north. So why not just stand, even if Abdul-Rauf didn’t want to honor the country himself? Why not have respect for those who do?

I think back to that call a lot. I had just turned 18. I thought I was smart as shit. I was an idiot.

What I didn’t realize from my suburban American bubble is that Abdul-Rauf’s entire point of protesting was to wake people like me up to the inequality in our neighboring communities. This, from the LA Times on March 13, 1996:

The flag is “a symbol of oppression, of tyranny,” he said. “This country has a long history of that. I don’t think you can argue the facts. You can’t be for God and for oppression. It’s clear in the Koran, Islam is the only way. I don’t criticize those who stand, so don’t criticize me for sitting. I won’t waver from my decision.”

I never heard that part of the conversation. Maybe I didn’t want to hear it, or maybe I just didn’t understand it at the time. When Abdul-Rauf said, “I look at the Caucasian American and I look at the African American being oppressed in this country and I don’t stand for that,” he literally meant he wasn’t going to stand for it.

More than 20 years later, we still can’t seem to stand together.

Unlike Abdul-Rauf, Kaepernick, Jenkins and most of the NFL players choosing to protest the anthem aren’t doing it for religious purposes. They’re doing it so we eventually stop talking about whether or not they have the right to protest, and start focusing more on the reasons why they’re doing it.

Eagles defensive back Ron Brooks (33), strong safety Malcolm Jenkins (27) and defensive end Steven Means (51) raised their fists during a 2016 game.

Eagles defensive back Ron Brooks (33), strong safety Malcolm Jenkins (27) and defensive end Steven Means (51) raised their fists during a 2016 game.

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The singing of the national anthem goes back just about 100 years in this country. It’s routine in other countries to play the anthem during international competitions, but often during privately-run events, the country’s anthem isn’t played at all. The major sports leagues in this country are all privately run businesses, and each team and most of the stadiums are privately owned and operated.

Playing the national anthem before a sporting event is not a law. It’s not a rule. It’s a long-standing tradition, and more and more people starting to question the reasons why we have some of these long-standing traditions should never be a bad thing.

People trying to make our country better by questioning what we’ve always done is not a bad thing.

I asked my 7-year-old son this morning what he thinks about a man who would protest the national anthem, and he said, “that’s so evil.” When I asked why, his reply was, “because you’re supposed to.”

Why are you supposed to, I asked. “Because it’s the American flag…” And then he ran away. I had made him uncomfortable.

His sister, three years his elder and far the wiser, said she thinks people should stand, “unless they have a reason.”

People have a reason. Some of us may not understand it or like it or respect it. But people have a reason, and as long as they continue to do it, more Americans will stop talking about what they’re doing and start talking about the reasons why.