Skip to content Skip to footer

The Philadelphia Eagles: Super Bowl champions and social activists

The Philadelphia Eagles are at the pinnacle of the sporting world today after their Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots, but this team is as notable for their moves off the field as on it.

Players like Malcolm Jenkins, Chris Long, and Torrey Smith have been involved in various causes of social activism including education, prison reform, and improving police-community relations.

Jenkins, Long, and Smith have all had various programs and charities set up for years, including Long’s Water Boys foundation that focuses on bringing potable water to underserved areas of Africa.

But the political and social climate of the past year has encouraged these players to take their work further this season. Jenkins and Smith both raised their fists in a show of support for the Black Lives Matter movement while Long, who is white, put his arm around his teammates in a show of solidarity.

Last week, Smith spoke about the protest, he was clear to point out that these players aren’t protesting the anthem, rather certain conditions within the country.

“They call it the anthem protest. We’re not protesting the anthem. It’s a protest during the anthem. I understand why people are mad, or may be offended when someone takes a knee. My father, when he dies, is going to be buried with an American flag draped around his casket, being that he served in the Army.”

But these players aren’t just taking a public stand, they’re using their platform to speak with lawmakers and higher-ups in various spaces to push forward actual legislation.

In October, Jenkins, Smith, and Long went to the Pennsylvania state Capitol in Harrisburg to support “Clean Slate” policies that expunge “criminal records of those convicted of low-level, non-violent misdemeanors automatically sealed after ten years if they remain crime-free,” according to CBS.

Jenkins became the unofficial spokesman for the NFL’s Player Coalition, which was formed to bridge the gap between players and the NFL offices. When the coalition struck an $89 million deal with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to fund various causes, Jenkins suddenly had to defend his decision to work with the NFL in an open letter.

“Many of us – Doug Baldwin, Chris Long, Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin, Rodney McLeod and others – have spent time in cities and towns talking with these people about these issues and pushing these legislators to right these wrongs. What we’ve learned is that this is not a Democrat or a Republican issue. It’s an American issue – and an American problem. That is why we are moving forward with our efforts in the Coalition, to drive forward initiatives, campaigns and advocacy efforts to force legislators to make this a priority.”

As attractive as extremism is in situations like these, sometimes a little diplomacy is in order.

In an op-ed piece last week, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch wrote about how Jenkins, Smith, and Long’s activism brought him back to the NFL.

Bunch compared Jenkins’ brand of activism to that of Colin Kaepernick, the former 49ers quarterback who has been blackballed from the NFL over his protests.

“In pro football’s justice wars, Kaepernick became the fiery but divisive Malcolm X while Jenkins was more of a Martin Luther King-style figure, not willing to compromise on his principles but willing to negotiate with the other side.”

Maybe the comparison is slightly hyperbolic, but Bunch’s point about the different strategies of activism remains.

Jenkins is specifically passionate about the issue of police reform and mass incarceration and he has familiarized himself with every aspect of the issue as part of his activism. He has ridden along with Philadelphia police, worked closely with the ACLU, and visited prisons to speak with inmates.

Jenkins accompanied Bill Cobb, a former inmate turned activist at the ACLU, to Graterford Prison, the same facility where Cobb was previously incarcerated.

The Eagles safety wrote about his experience in an article for The Philadelphia Citizen.

“Sitting with those inmates and meeting many others, you realize just how much potential we’ve just locked away. And then, when you read the research, it’s clear that our punitive system of justice raises the recidivism rate and damages people, making it harder for them to live in society when they get out.”

Cobb spoke to Will Bunch about Jenkins’ leadership.

“What I like about his leadership, is that Malcolm gets people to understand that their leadership is possible.”

As for Chris Long, who was motivated to get socially active after the white supremacist marches in his hometown of Charlottesville, the defensive lineman donated his entire year’s salary to various educational programs to help kids in underserved communities in the three cities he has played in, in St. Louis, Boston, and Philadelphia.

Long’s work was praised by President Barack Obama as an example of “what’s best about America.”

Long also told the Pardon My Take Podcast last week that he would not be going to the White House if the Eagles won, saying,  “No, I’m not going to the White House. Are you kidding me?”

It’ll be interesting to see how many of the Eagles do indeed show up to Trump’s crib. I’d take the under.

Chris Long will donate first 6 NFL game checks to Charlottesville kids

Resident woke white dude in the NFL Chris Long is donating his first 6 game checks to fund scholarships for underprivileged children in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Long, a Charlottesville native himself, is setting up his scholarship as a response to the white supremacist marches in the city last month. He spoke about his actions in a statement from the Chris Long Foundation,

“In August, we watched people fill our hometown streets with hatred and bigotry,” said Long. “Megan and I decided to try to combat those actions with our own positive investment in our community.”

By partnering with the Boys & Girls Club of Central Virginia, Long will sponsor two students for 7 years at his alma mater, St. Anne’s-Belfield School, a top private school in Charlottesville. Long spoke further about his donation and representing the true nature of his hometown,

“We want these scholarships to be reflective of what the ‘Cville’ community is really about – – supporting one another, social equality and building up those in our community who need it,” said Long. “We hope our investment will change the lives of the students who receive the scholarship and in turn, those students can positively impact others.”

David Lourie, Head of School at St. Anne’s-Belfield, said of Long’s scholarship,

“We could not be more pleased that Chris is supporting student scholarships in this way. His commitment to the Charlottesville community and making this opportunity possible represents all that we hope for in our alumni. We look forward to welcoming our first scholarship recipients next year.”

Long’s own foundation has set up WaterBoys, an organization focused on getting potable water to communities in need in Africa. But this step to set up scholarships is obviously more focused on Long’s own backyard, and he said in his statement about how important it is to invest at home,

“Through the foundation, we are committed to serving communities lacking basic human necessities, but we also want to invest in the one in our backyard. This scholarship allows us a chance to give back to our community and empower students that don’t have the same educational opportunities that my wife and I were afforded.”

This is some pretty cool stuff from Chris Long, who became the first white player in the NFL to take part in national anthem protests during the preseason. He spoke at length about being an ally and standing up to social and racial injustices after his anthem protest last month.

Now Long, like Colin Kaepernick, is putting action behind his protest. These football players have taken a lot of criticism for their social action but they’re actively trying to impact communities in need for the better.

That’s something that should be widely commended and praised.

Chris Long becomes first white NFL player to protest national anthem

As the NFL season creeps closer, there’s been just as much talk about players’ actions on the sidelines as their play than on the field.

After Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem last year and was subsequently blackballed from the NFL, players all over the league have displayed their own form of protest during the national anthem.

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett told Sportscenter that he had been contemplating sitting down during the national anthem and decided to follow through after seeing the events in Charlottesville over the weekend.

Bennett went on to tell Jemele Hill and Michael Smith that it would take a white athlete taking a stand during the national anthem to really effect change.

“It would take a white player to really get things changed, because when somebody from the other side understands and they step up and they speak up about it… it would change the whole conversation. Because when you bring somebody who doesn’t have to be a part of [the] conversation making himself vulnerable in front of it, I think when that happens, things will really take a jump.”

Whether it was a response to Bennett’s comments or not, Eagles defensive end Chris Long has answered this call.

Long, a Charlottesville native, put his arm around Malcolm Jenkins while the Eagles safety raised his fist in protest during the national anthem.

Jenkins does not kneel, but instead raises his fist in the air a la Tommie Smith and John Carlos during the 1968 Olympics.

Chris Long spoke after the game about the events in Charlottesville and his decision to show support for his teammate.

“It’s been a hard week for everybody. 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, ‘Why do athletes get involved in the national anthem protests?’ I’ve said before that I’ll never kneel for an anthem because the flag means something different for everybody in this country, but I support my peers. 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.”

Long went on to speak thoughtfully about being a white ally and athlete.

“Malcolm is a leader and I’m here to show support as a white athlete… I was inspired by a lot of the allies that were there to stand up against hate in my hometown and I wasn’t able to be there to protest or to stand up against hate. People like Heather Heyer gave their life for that and I was inspired by that… I just told Malcolm, ‘I’m here for you.’ I think it’s a good time for people that look like me to be there for people that are fighting for equality.”

As for Jenkins, there’s some serious research behind his protest. He said in a statement last week that he would be continuing his protest this season:

“Last season, I raised my fist as a sign of solidarity to support people, especially people of color, who were and are still unjustly losing their lives at the hands of officers with little to no consequence. After spending time with police officers on ride-alongs, meeting with politicians on the state and federal level and grass roots organizations fighting for human rights, it’s clear that our criminal justice system is still crippling communities of color through mass incarceration.”

Then after the game last night, Jenkins spoke eloquently about Long’s show of support and his teammate’s desire to be an ally,

“I think he understands that he could never necessarily know my experience as a black male, but in the light of all that’s going on, as a white male, he understands that he needs to be an ally. He expressed that desire to me, and so I thought it was appropriate to show that gesture of support.”

This is pretty inspiring stuff from Jenkins and Long. Many of the common criticisms of these athletes protesting is that they’re just complaining without actually changing anything.

In this case, that couldn’t be less true. Malcolm Jenkins has seen first hand the massive issues in the criminal justice system, riding along with law enforcement officials and meeting with politicians.

Chris Long started Water Boys, an organization focused on getting clean drinking water, as well as other infrastructure, to East African communities in need.

With all of the backlash to Kaepernick, it takes serious balls to take a stand, especially for black athletes.

Hopefully, as Michael Bennet said, having a white athlete take a stand will truly change things.