The most important lesson from last night's preseason game did not come until the players congregated in the locker room when the clock struck zero. Chris Long spoke to the media on why he put his arm around Malcolm Jenkins during the National Anthem. Jenkins spent most of last season demonstrating during the anthem with a raised fist. He has become outspoken on the meaning of this and has made political advocacy a part of his identity; talking about politics with the media, meeting with the mayor of Philadelphia, talking with police union members and going to Washington D.C. to discuss his vision with politicians. Malcom's political work is extensive and it is clear it had a profound impact on Chris Long.
"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 spoke extensively on his solidarity, but it's these words that carry the most weight. Long has been relatively outspoken in the last few months on politics, especially given his refusal to visit Donald Trump at the White House after the Patriots won the Super Bowl. However, the current discussion about politics and racial injustice took on a new meaning for Long after tragedy struck a very personal chord this last weekend. Chris Long made a name for himself at the University of Virginia as an outstanding college football player but had to watch as his Alma Mater was taken over by a hateful demonstration of Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists just days ago. Charlottesville was filled with racist and anti-semitic chants, armed demonstrators and Swastika adorned men marching with torches. This harrowing display of hate in this country culminated in a Neo Nazi terrorist running his car through a crowd of counter protesters and killing a brave woman, Heather Heyer, who came to protect her town from this hate.
Charlottesville became a battleground, but also a wake-up call.
The conversation of race and racism in America has been a tough one to have, especially in an age when politicians feel more emboldened to reproduce such hateful rhetoric. For white folks, it becomes incredibly uncomfortable to confront the racist roots of this country and how that manifests itself today. Charlottesville serves as an incredibly chilling reminder that history is not a progress story and that America is moving backwards at a disturbing rate. The president's endorsement of these white supremacists by referring to some as "very fine people" and condemnation of the counter protesters trying to stop these hateful people from marching continues to codify racial anxiety at the highest level of government.
These are dark times, but that does not mean it is all darkness. The positive takeaway from the recent ugly events is that there was a wide range of people counter protesting in Charlottesville. It was white, black, Jewish, Muslim and Christian people, the old, the young, the clergy and the academics who came together to stand against hate. It was solidarity and ally-ship in its most pure form and it was inspiring.
Chris Long was obviously deeply affected by the events in his college town, a town that shaped much of the man he is today. He may not have knelt for the National Anthem, but what he did was beyond what any white athlete in the NFL has done to this point in this conversation. What Chris Long did may not have been a massive demonstration, but it was an important gesture. To show solidarity with Malcolm Jenkins and to simply say "I support you and I have your back" is something not only the NFL can learn from, but also America.
Chris Long does not know what it is like to be a black person in the United States of America and a number of us similarly do not. What he does know is that it is not up to him to dictate how people feel and that it is more his responsibility to listen and to be supportive. When these demonstrations started getting attention with Colin Kaepernick's kneeling a year ago, it created a lot of outrage that still permeates itself throughout NFL fandom. A lot of that outrage simply comes from a misunderstanding from millions of people about what it means to be a minority. Chris Long shows that it is not about fully understanding another person's pain, or anger or their life, but rather respecting their voice and offering any support he can.
In 2017 and beyond, we need to be a more compassionate and empathetic country. We do not need to know every detail of a person's struggle to recognize that a struggle exists, rather sometimes what we can do is put an arm around our fellow Americans and say "I got you." After this weekend, it is clear that this is a struggle for all of us and if we can put our arms around one another and listen to each other, hopefully it will not be a struggle for long.