For more than a year, Eric Reid’s anger toward Malcolm Jenkins has been brewing. Sunday’s inevitable confrontation between the two players was going to happen one way or another. It was just a matter of where and when.
There’s no surgical way to break the beef down between the Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles safeties. It has been messy and accusatory, with sniping happening behind the scenes for more than a year, dating back to the NFL owners meetings in New York in October of 2017, when the league moved to alleviate controversy surrounding protests during the national anthem at games.
During that set of meetings, Jenkins and Reid came to a crossroads. One of them (Jenkins) would be embraced by the NFL as the liaison to move the protest “controversy” toward compromise. The other (Reid) was seen by league executives as an impediment to progress, largely because of one hardline stance: he wanted Colin Kaepernick’s alleged black-balling by the NFL to be a priority when it came to talks between players and owners.
When the dust settled with the league’s power brokers, Jenkins was chosen – while Reid and Kaepernick were frozen out. The NFL won the entire affair by dividing and conquering some players, leaving behind a trail of hard feelings.
It unfolded like this: Jenkins was tabbed as the go-to man when the league engaged in negotiations with the Players Coalition. The two sides agreed on a multimillion dollar platform that made the NFL partners with players in social justice efforts. Reid was muted by Jenkins for his Kaepernick lobbying. So Reid departed the group out of frustration. Kaepernick remained unsigned, and Reid languished for six months in free agency before being signed by the Panthers (under new ownership) – but only after he accused the NFL of blackballing him the same way it was allegedly blackballing Kaepernick.
Lost in all that drama was the NFL getting exactly what it wanted: the ability to promote ties with players on social reform while completely avoiding any kind of negotiation that involved Kaepernick’s job status.
Even that victory came with an unexpected twist. Specifically, the NFL instituting and then shelving a rule that banned protests during the national anthem. So while the NFL has its socially responsible ties to promote, it got them under conditions it initially refused for the 2018 season: A handful of players (including Reid) still protesting during the anthem.
Maybe the only guy who lost in this whole thing is Kaepernick, given that he still doesn’t have an NFL job while some other far inferior players have started in the league in 2018. But even that loss is arguable since Kaepernick has become the face of a powerful Nike campaign and he also won the first standoff in his grievance against the NFL.
Whatever the bottom line, the way it unfolded left Reid with a bad taste in his mouth. To the point that for the last year, he has been asserting that Jenkins was a sellout for assuming the leading role with the Players Coalition, then taking the NFL’s money for social justice efforts – all while simultaneously leaving Kaepernick behind.
“We believe a lot of players should have stepped up for Colin,” Reid told reporters after Sunday’s game between the Panthers and Eagles – which began with a pregame verbal confrontation between Reid and Jenkins. “I believe Malcolm capitalized on the situation. He co-opted the movement that was started by Colin to get his [Players Coalition] organization funded. It’s cowardly. He sold us out.”
Well, he appeared to endorse Reid calling Jenkins out, tweeting “Eric Reid!!! Enough said!!!” after Reid’s comments Sunday. For good measure, Kaepernick added the hashtag “#ImWithReid” – a similar calling to the “#ImWithKap” hashtag.
Asked for his response to Reid, Jenkins did what he has been doing in response to the “sellout” allegation for the past year. He ignored it.
“I’m not going to get up here and say anything negative about that man,” Jenkins said in response to Reid. “I respect him. I’m glad he has a job. I’m glad he’s back in the league. I’ll leave it like that.”
While that’s clearly the high road, it’s not likely to change the hard feelings that have been brewing behind the scenes between the Reid/Kaepernick camp and Jenkins and the coalition. If anything, this will be the disappointing chapter written to the player protests that shook the NFL to its core for two seasons and became political red meat for President Donald Trump.
A chapter that will end with the coalition funded, socially proactive players divided, Kaepernick unemployed, and one side climbing above the fray with a solid split-decision win: The NFL.
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