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Anquan Boldin and Malcolm Jenkins speak at congressional forum on community-police relations

For the second time in six months, NFL players visit Capitol Hill to push for change

During a congressional forum on building trust between the nation’s communities and police, a 36-year-old black man sat before several prominent African-American leaders and delivered chilling testimony about his cousin, who died in October 2015 at the hands of a plainclothes officer.

Corey Jones was driving home from a show with his church band around 2 a.m. when his car broke down on the side of a Florida highway. A white cargo van pulled up, and out of it emerged Officer Nouman Raja in jeans, sneakers and a T-shirt. In the ensuing moments, Raja fired six shots, and Jones was dead.

“I wish I could tell you Corey’s story was unique. I wish I could tell you that now, over a year later, we know exactly what happened and that the issue was resolved,” the man told U.S. Reps. Lacy Clay (D-Missouri), Brenda Lawrence (D-Michigan), John Conyers (D-Michigan), Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Cedric Richmond (D-Louisiana) and Hank Johnson (D-Georgia) at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

“I wish I could tell you Corey didn’t die in the first place. As a matter of fact, I wish I wasn’t here talking to you at all, but I am.”

That man was free-agent wide receiver and Super Bowl champion Anquan Boldin. To the right of him was Philadelphia Eagles Pro Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins, who also testified, primarily on juvenile mass incarceration, and answered questions from members of Congress as part of a panel called “NFL Players Speak Up: First-Hand Experiences and Building Trust Between Communities and Police.”

General view of the congressional forum to hear from NFL players about their own experiences and how they hope to improve relationships with minority communities and the police while supporting programs to help inmates successfully re-enter their communities at the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform at the Rayburn House Office Building.

Tasos Katopodis for The Undefeated

The forum concluded a three-day trip to Capitol Hill for Boldin and Jenkins, who were joined by Detroit Lions cornerback Johnson Bademosi, former NFL wide receiver Donte Stallworth and Joe Briggs, the NFL Players Association’s (NFLPA) public policy counsel.

“Let me thank you all for stepping off the field and stepping back into the real life that you all lived before you made it to the NFL and before you played in college. To get out of your comfort zone, but to actually give back and fight for issues that are critical,” Richmond said in his opening statement to the forum. “We don’t see it enough. But you all do it, and most of our African-American male athletes do it, you just don’t get the attention for it. You only get the attention for doing the wrong thing, but when you’re doing the right thing you don’t get as much attention, so let me thank you.”

This week marked the second time in six months that NFL players have traveled to Washington, D.C., to advocate for social justice. In November 2016, Boldin, Jenkins, Detroit Lions safety Glover Quin, then-Cleveland Browns quarterback Josh McCown and wide receiver Andrew Hawkins engaged in preliminary meetings on police brutality and racial injustice with members of Congress, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin).

The first trip, Jenkins said, was just to get their feet wet. The second time around, he and Boldin prepared for — and had — deeper discussions.

“It was much more productive. We obviously had a lot more meetings, got in front of a lot more people. I felt like we were heard,” the 29-year-old Jenkins said. “The biggest part is just continuing to show up, continuing to advocate, gaining support and trying to get this as high up on the list of priorities to actually get it pushed through.”

Malcolm Jenkins of the Philadelphia Eagles shakes hands with a guest at the congressional forum.

Tasos Katopodis for The Undefeated

Jenkins, who has gone on a ride-along with Philadelphia police and visited a prison to speak with inmates since the start of the last NFL season, credited Boldin for getting him involved in political reform. Together, they have united on a complementary front, with Boldin seeking increased trust between communities and police through governmental funding for police training, while Jenkins focuses on juvenile mass incarceration and the need for more resources for individuals released from prison.

“I wanted to partner with like-minded people. Two heads are better than one,” Boldin said. “Whenever you can balance out ideas off different people and hear different perspectives, I think that’s always better because I can have a concern and I can just come at it from one angle. To hear different people, especially people that are passionate about the same causes that you are, I think it makes it even better.”

While former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been the poster child of the renaissance the NFL (and sports in general) is experiencing with players speaking out on social justice issues, Boldin’s wake-up call came long before Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem.

“For me, my cousin was killed before the whole protesting began. I began to speak out then. Unfortunately, my voice wasn’t heard until guys started to protest,” Boldin said. “It’s unfortunate that it’s that way. But if that’s what had to happen for this issue to be pushed to the forefront, then so be it. For me, I would partner with anybody who has a legitimate cause and concern about any injustices. I’m not concerned about who gets credit for doing whatever. I’m just about making change.”

After the testimony from Boldin and Jenkins, Richmond pledged full support for the two NFL players as those who sat before them challenged President Donald Trump to “get out of his comfort zone,” Richmond said, and begin comprehensive reform of the criminal justice system.

“We are committed. … The legacy of the people you see up here is a legacy of hard work to change it,” said Richmond, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “To the extent that we both can elevate our voice together, I think we should do that.”

Before the forum concluded, Cummings posed one question: Is there anyone else in the NFL looking to get involved?

“There are a lot of guys that have concerns about what’s going on in their communities and across the nation that are looking for ways to get involved,” Jenkins responded. “They’re not sure what to do, but they do want to put in some work. And that’s kind of what me and Anquan are doing, is really trying to blaze that trail for them to follow along.”

To consolidate that effort among players, Jenkins said, the NFLPA recently established a community engagement committee, with criminal justice reform on the list of the issues they’re hoping to address.

Malcolm Jenkins of the Philadelphia Eagles and Anquan Boldin of the Detroit Lions speak at a congressional forum to hear from NFL players about their own experiences and how they hope to improve relationships with minority communities and the police while supporting programs to help inmates successfully re-enter their communities at the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform at the Rayburn House Office Building.

Tasos Katopodis for The Undefeated

“For us, we’re just trying to create a safe haven for guys to be active in their communities because — I mean, just being honest — guys are concerned about their livelihood,” Boldin added. “So we’re trying to make it to where our guys don’t have to be afraid to speak out and would be more than willing to step up to the plate.”

Boldin and Jenkins vowed that the visits to Washington will continue. Perhaps the next time they’ll have more NFL representatives beside them.

Aaron Dodson is an associate editor at The Undefeated. Often mistaken for Aaron Dobson, formerly of the New England Patriots and Arizona Cardinals, he was one letter away from being an NFL wide receiver.