PHILADELPHIA — Like many teams across the NFL, the Philadelphia Eagles garnered attention Sunday with a demonstration during the national anthem.
Players, coaches, owner Jeffrey Lurie and key executives linked arms on the sideline while “The Star-Spangled Banner” played before the team’s home-opening win over the Giants as a show of solidarity. The gesture came in the wake of President Donald Trump’s suggestion that owners should “fire” players who protest social injustices by demonstrating during pregame anthems.
While every Eagles player appeared to participate in the anthem gesture, none of them kneeled. Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who catalyzed the string of NFL protests, sat and then kneeled during playings of “The Star-Spangled Banner” last season, and many other players across the league have chosen to take a knee, as well.
Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said he has no problem with that form of protest. But Jenkins has instead raised his right fist while standing during pregame anthems for the past 22 Eagles preseason and regular-season games, and he has an explanation for that.
“The reason I don’t kneel is not because I think it’s disrespectful. It’s because I think it’s misunderstood,” Jenkins said. “I want my demonstration to be effective and received. I think whatever that is is going to be to the individual, but everybody’s saying the same thing: We need change. We want to be that vehicle to change our communities, and we need to use the platform that we have to do that. So, hopefully, people can begin to listen to some of those issues.”
In other words, Jenkins thinks raising his fist is the best way to bring attention to his push for criminal justice reform, because he said it spotlights his goals yet might alienate fewer people than a kneel.
Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith expressed a similar thought. Smith hadn’t made gestures during anthems before Sunday’s home opener, but he — along with Jenkins — was one of four players to write a 10-page memo last month to the NFL asking for support of their activism.
Smith said he didn’t want to protest during the anthem because he wanted to keep open a dialogue, but Trump’s recent comments convinced the seventh-year wideout to lock arms with his teammates Sunday.
“I feel like I’ve been doing work in the communities, so [the protest] is going to make some people close their mind off to talking to me period,” Smith said. “They’re going to be like, ‘Hey, you protesting, you disrespecting the national anthem.’ My dad served in the military for 25 years. Every community that I have, I have officer from that city come. Like, I’m friends with police officers. I’m not anti-police, I’m not anti-military or any of that. But at this point, I’m tired of that. I have to join Malcolm, and continue to do the work off the field, but also join the protest.”
Jenkins and Smith have lobbied for criminal justice reform legislation on a state level. Most notably, the duo has offered support for a proposed Pennsylvania bill dubbed the Clean Slate Act, which would alter how state courts seal criminal records.
Trump tweeted Sunday that he was fine with players locking arms, but didn’t agree with those who knelt.
Jenkins said he disagreed with Trump’s view that kneeling is unacceptable.
“It doesn’t make a difference at all,” Jenkins said. “We’re saying the same thing that players who kneel are.”
Jenkins, when asked to respond to Trump, said he wasn’t surprised or bothered by the president’s remarks.
“Anybody who criticizes the anthem protest, I always challenge them, or I’d always love to hear their opinions about what’s going on in our communities,” Jenkins said. “How do they feel about our criminal justice system? How do they feel about lives being lost in the hands of police officers for no reason? How do they feel about the relationship between our communities and our law enforcement? And if they have no real legitimate opinions about that, then I could care less what their opinions are of me trying to draw attention to those issues.”