Battered and bruised, Malcolm Jenkins won’t stop fighting for black folks
‘You can say what you want about me. At the end of the day, my focus and my goals have always been about the people and making that change.’
SEATTLE — At the end of the most difficult week of his professional life, Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins still stood tall. He was definitely battered and bruised, mind you. But Jenkins didn’t back down.
Despite recent attacks on both his leadership and character by other NFL players he counts among his brothers in the struggle for racial equality, Jenkins remained focused on what’s most important. With so much work to do in his effort to help African-Americans, he has to keep it moving. And after the Seattle Seahawks’ 24-10 victory Sunday night halted the Eagles’ winning streak at nine games, Jenkins again put one foot in front of the other.
“The biggest thing for us is to get to work as fast as possible on holding the league accountable to things that they promised and stepped up to the table with,” Jenkins said in the visitors locker room at CenturyLink Field. “Hopefully, the league holds up their end of the bargain. Players have been working. They’re ready to work to continue to use their voices to draw attention to our communities and make some real change.”
Jenkins has been at the forefront of effecting change. He should have spent the past week reveling in the groundbreaking success he and his cohorts achieved in persuading owners to partner with them in supporting social justice causes. Instead, Jenkins had to push back against accusations that he’s a liar and a sellout. He sent an open letter to the media Sunday night.
Last week, four key players split with the Players Coalition, the main group, of which Jenkins is the co-leader, negotiating with the NFL about demonstrations during the national anthem. The fracture occurred on the eve of owners making a groundbreaking offer to players of nearly $100 million to fund programs that will, in theory, help black folks.
Jenkins had a key role in pushing forward with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Troy Vincent, NFL executive vice president of football operations, to reach an agreement in principle. Owners are expected to vote to finalize the deal at the annual league meetings in March.
However, citing issues with Jenkins’ handling of negotiations and their dissatisfaction with the league’s multifaceted offer — it earmarks at least $89 million over a seven-year period for both national and local projects — San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid, Miami Dolphins safety Michael Thomas and wide receiver Kenny Stills, and Los Angeles Chargers offensive tackle Russell Okung broke away from the coalition.
Reid accused Jenkins of lying to players and secretly negotiating with Goodell. Jenkins denied the allegations.
To show good faith since the sides reached a tentative agreement, Jenkins said he no longer will protest. Formerly, Jenkins, who’s in his ninth season, raised a fist during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Critics have accused Jenkins of abandoning his principles for what, in their opinion, amounts to hush money. Obviously, Jenkins disagrees. He has been roundly criticized by fans on social media for his decision.
There’s no language in the agreement mandating that players stop demonstrating in exchange for the funds, but owners and high-ranking league officials are hopeful that things will return to how they were before then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first sat and then kneeled last season. On Sunday, the players at odds with Jenkins and others continued to protest. That’s fine with Jenkins, who’s at peace with his approach too.
“You can say what you want about me. At the end of the day, my focus and my goals have always been about the people and making that change,” Jenkins said. “I don’t get into mudslinging because that doesn’t benefit me, it doesn’t benefit them [his critics] and it doesn’t benefit our movement.”
For months, Eagles defensive end Chris Long has watched his teammate and friend essentially work a second full-time job while trying to nail down terms with the league and build an infrastructure to disperse funds for projects, “and I’m not going to turn down the chance to defend my friend,” Long said. “Malcolm has put so much time into advancing these issues that players are concerned about.
“Whether you like the deal or not, or you don’t think it’s enough [money], one thing I’m not really listening to is that his integrity isn’t there. He’s an honest dude. A lot of the dudes, a lot of the guys who splintered off, were working right alongside him until a couple of days ago, trying to accomplish the same type of thing. It sucks that we can’t do it together at the moment. I hope there’s a way that we can all get back together. I really do. But Malcolm cares.”
And while Jenkins won’t let the attacks derail him, they sting nonetheless.
“It’s definitely been strange,” Jenkins said. “The biggest thing, the disappointment, is just to see the personal attacks. We expected to get attacked by fans and even the NFL ownership, but not our peers who fought [alongside] us.”
Regardless of what has been said about him, Jenkins appreciates the contributions of the players who have distanced themselves from the coalition.
“All of us have contributed to where we’ve gotten,” he said. “And all of us should be proud of it. We may disagree, but I’m still proud of those guys. They played a huge part in where we’re at right now.”