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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.