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The Eagles are more than just socially conscious, they’re Super Bowl champions

In the year of the protest in the NFL, Philadelphia finishes on top

MINNEAPOLIS — It seems almost too Hollywoodesque that in the year of protest in the NFL, perhaps the league’s most socially conscious team would finish on top.

That players who have been at the forefront of the new civil rights movement would help lead the way to a franchise’s first Super Bowl title.

And that after selflessly helping others, those players would be rewarded with more than they could have envisioned.

But the hard-to-believe ending became reality Sunday night as the underdog Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots, 41-33, at U.S. Bank Stadium.

As green confetti fell to the field, it sank in that safety Malcolm Jenkins, defensive end Chris Long and wide receiver Torrey Smith had delivered all season both on behalf of their teammates in the locker room as well as people in underprivileged communities. That’s called winning on and off the field.

Although many Eagles players were active in trying to make a difference out there, Jenkins, Long and Smith set the tone through their work with the Players Coalition, the main group of players who protested during the national anthem to shine a light on racial injustice.

The co-leader of the coalition, Jenkins also holds a similar role with his Eagles teammates, who this season followed him as far as any team in the NFL is capable of going.

“Everybody listens to him because he’s been through situations before,” star defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. “But he told us that this was one of the easiest teams for him to lead throughout his whole career because he’s got a bunch of great guys … who listen and take care of business.”

That’s the truth, Jenkins said.

The Eagles are a highly professional bunch. Jenkins didn’t have to babysit anyone. The Eagles didn’t have unnecessary drama. Without fires to put out daily in the locker room, Jenkins, with big assists from Long and Smith and others, was able to put in serious work off the field too.

Besides his ongoing efforts championing criminal justice reform, Jenkins also played a key part in reaching an unprecedented proposed $89 million social justice partnership with the NFL. All Long did was donate his entire 2017 salary to charity. Last week, he was selected as the winner of the Byron “Whizzer” White Award, the NFL Players Association’s highest honor for players who have made a major impact through their charitable efforts. Then there’s Smith, who’s a vocal proponent of changing the system. In an effort to make it happen, he rides with Jenkins and Long.

“When you believe that something is important, when you see people in a position they shouldn’t be in because of things that are wrong with our [criminal justice] system, you should work to change it,” said Smith, who had five catches for 49 yards against the Patriots.

“As athletes, we have a platform we can use to help people. And winning only makes your platform bigger. But I think what we’ve shown this year is that you can have a lot of guys on a team who are out there in the community doing things — but they’re also doing their jobs.”

The term “woke” definitely applies to the Eagles. Long, though, is quick to point out that players on many NFL teams work to help others too. The Eagles just take pride in doing their part. They’re also the Super Bowl champions. So there’s that.

“There are a lot of teams with guys doing great work in the community who don’t win” championships, said Long, who was credited with two hits on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. “We won because we have the right guys. … But we can also do good work [in the community]. That’s what we want to do. We’ve been given a lot. We feel it’s the least we can do.”

During their Super Bowl run, the Eagles have continued to support incarcerated rapper Meek Mill, and vice versa. The Eagles took the field Sunday to the Philadelphia native’s “Dreams and Nightmares,” which has served as the team’s unofficial anthem.

As his favorite team held off the Patriots in one of the most entertaining Super Bowls, Mill remained confined to a medium-security prison in Chester, Pennsylvania, while he serves his sentence for violating probation stemming from a 2009 gun and drug case.

After the victory, Mill was on Jenkins’ mind.

“We really found a lot of energy and juice from Meek’s music,” said Jenkins, whose brutal (but within the rules) hit on Brandin Cooks in the second quarter sidelined the Patriots’ No. 1 wideout with a head injury for the remainder of the game.

“And we obviously still support him. We want him to get home. We know this means a lot to him. Hopefully, this brings him a little bit of joy. We know it’s going to bring the city of Philadelphia a lot of joy.”

By setting a great example, Jenkins, Long and Smith helped the Eagles climb to the top of the mountain. And in more important ways, they’re working to bring others outside of football along with them.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at The Undefeated. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.