The Philadelphia Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins has been offering his own statement during the pregame playing of the national anthem, raising a fist to protest racial injustice. Teammate Chris Long joined Jenkins on Thursday night, placing a hand on Jenkins’ shoulder. It was a small gesture in the moment, but it could have significant impact on the ongoing anthem debate.
Why? Very simple. Jenkins, like Colin Kaepernick and most — if not all — the anthem protesters in the NFL to date, is black. Long is white.
“I think it’s a good time for people that look like me to be here for people that are fighting for equality,” Long said after the game. A graduate of the University of Virginia who considers Charlottesville his home, Long spoke out in no uncertain terms about President Trump’s “both sides” equivocation in the wake of last weekend’s fatal riots.
“It’s been a hard week for everybody,” he continued. “I think it’s not just a hard week for someone being from Charlottesville. It’s a tough week for America. I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘You need white athletes to get involved in the anthem protest.’ I’ve said before that I’ll never kneel for an anthem because the flag means something different to everybody in this country, but I support my peers.”
Long then directly addressed the critics he knew would be rising out of the comment sections and sports-radio call-ins of the world: “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,” he said. “My thing is, Malcolm’s a leader and I’m here to show support as a white athlete.”
Jenkins is one of a growing number of athletes taking a strong stand against racial injustice, using the nonviolent symbolism of silent anthem protest to draw attention to their cause. Kaepernick, of course, is out of a job at the moment; whether that’s because of his political protest or his lack of skills is a matter of some dispute. But Jenkins, a highly regarded safety, ranked 90th on the NFL’s Top 100 list earlier this year. Like fellow protester Michael Bennett of Seattle and (possibly) Marshawn Lynch of Oakland, he’s not so easy to brush aside from a football perspective.
“Stepping out in front of all those people and the obvious attention that is going to be brought to it is not an easy thing to do,” Jenkins said after the game. “I think looking at the atmosphere last year compared to this year, so much has transpired, and in a negative direction, that I think the stakes are almost higher now.”
“When you get in the position on a platform where you get a chance to give back and create opportunities for others, that’s where I want my legacy to be,” Bennett told Yahoo Sports earlier this week. “I want to create opportunities for others. I want to raise the bar about what we can do as athletes and people.”
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at email@example.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.