As players across the NFL have spent the last two seasons demonstrating during the national anthem to protest against social injustices, Eagles’ SAF Malcolm Jenkins and DE Chris Long have become two of the most widely-recognized protesters. Aaron Dodson of The Undefeated interviewed Malcolm Jenkins after the first season of demonstrations; SB Nation’s Charlotte Wilder profiled Long as he donated a season’s worth of game checks.
As such, Jenkins and Long were both sought after in the media availability following Tuesday’s practices—the first Eagles practices since the NFL announced their new anthem policy, which mandates that all players on the field for the national anthem stand, but extends to players who don’t wish to stand the option to stay inside the locker room.
As many NFL players have, neither pulled many punches:
Never seen Malcolm Jenkins as ticked as he was today, over NFL protest rules: "We don’t have this type of policies for other causes we support, whether it be our “Salute to Service” or breast cancer awareness...It’s just when you start talking about black folks, quite frankly."— Les Bowen (@LesBowen) May 29, 2018
Malcolm brings up two causes that are officially recognized by the NFL, which makes the comparison a little thin. However, Jenkins’ frustration at the lack of visibility afforded to the protesters, in light of the NFL’s enthusiasm to put other causes front and center, is clear. (There is a note here to be made between the NFL’s disparate willingness, and the money the NFL makes from pink branding.)
Long wasn’t as reportedly upset as Jenkins, but echoed back to the original statement he made on the day the policy was announced—a statement that much more bluntly addressed the NFL’s pocketbook, and its role in the protest policy:
"It’s their right, but I think it was a dumb move and I think it was clumsy. I don’t think it was rooted in patriotism. I love this country, I love our vets, the guys protesting love our country and love our vets. I think it was driven by fear of a diminished bottom line." - Long— Dave Zangaro (@DZangaroNBCS) May 29, 2018
The discussion around love for country, veterans, and freedom is a tricky one. The national anthem is, obviously, symbolic of the country for which it stands: and a protest during it, regardless of the initial intention, evokes a sense of disrespect and anti-patriotism in many onlookers. And while Long did not intend to disrespect his country or any of its service members when he wrapped his arm around Jenkins, the NFL is worried that people will see that and attend fewer games; tune in less often; buy less gear. So they’re removing the visibility of the protestors all together.
It’s understandable that these questions came at this time--but it’s certainly the hope of the NFL that this news cycle dies out in the offseason, and stays dead with the protested players cordoned to the locker room. One would imagine, however, that Long and Jenkins alike with both remain among the most active NFL players on and off the field on the topics of social justice and players’ right to protest.