Malcolm Jenkins went to New York last Tuesday, one of 13 NFL players who met with team owners to discuss protests that have been taking place before games during the playing of the national anthem.
Two days later, Jenkins went to the NovaCare Complex, one of 53 active players trying to win football games for the Philadelphia Eagles.
These are the two lives of Malcolm Jenkins at the moment, and that’s not even counting the work being done for underserved youth by his foundation or the responsibilities of life at home with his wife, Morrisa, and their daughter, Elle.
If the work and interests outside football took something away from his day job, Jenkins would hear about it, but so far that hasn’t been the case. The Eagles are 5-1. The defensive backfield, of which he is considered the leader, is playing above expectations. It’s a balancing act, to be sure, but Jenkins has kept his feet under him.
“Coach always says, ‘Be where your feet are,’ ” fellow safety Rodney McLeod said, quoting position coach Cory Undlin. “Malcolm comes to work as a true professional. When he’s here, he’s here. His hands are in a lot of different stuff, but he’s the type of guy who knows what comes first. He does his job for us and then everything else takes care of itself.”
The intersection of sports and social protest has become a crowded one in the last two years, with traffic entering from every direction and all with different destinations in mind. There will never be a consensus reached or a solution to the gridlock of opinion. For his part, Jenkins will settle for being part of a slow crawl to what he envisions as a more just society.
“What I’m doing is bigger than me, and if it inspires other guys to get involved and shows them a way to use their platform, that’s effective. It’s definitely something I appreciate,” Jenkins said.
The Eagles play on national television Monday night against the Washington Redskins (a social protest in their own right), but it’s unlikely the network will be on the air during the anthem or televise concurrent protests. The NFL’s broadcast partners have stopped treating the protests as news, perhaps at the spoken or unspoken behest of a league that is dealing with lower ratings and grumbling from deep-pocketed sponsors.
The protests gained momentum last year when San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the anthem to bring attention to the Black Lives Matter movement that followed instances of apparently disproportionate police violence against minorities. Since then, the symbolic protests have continued, even while Kaepernick’s employment in the NFL came to a sudden end. Some players, usually a small number on each team, take a knee, raise a fist, or silently link arms.
When President Trump attacked the protesting players via Twitter earlier this season, the league closed ranks for a weekend and many of the demonstrations were team-wide. The Eagles, their coaches, and members of their front office linked arms during the anthem before the Sept. 24 game against the New York Giants at Lincoln Financial Field.
Trying to quell a situation that might be bad for business, the commissioner and 11 of the league’s owners met with the group of players in New York, and it was natural that Jenkins was there.
“We didn’t leave the meeting with a concrete solution, but I don’t think we anticipated we would,” Jenkins said. “The fact that we had owners and players in one room talking about issues that had nothing to do with [contracts] or anything like that was the first time in history it has happened. I thought there was a lot of constructive dialogue, a lot of honest dialogue. There was a commitment from both the players and ownership to work together to find a solution. This was the first step in that process.”
The owners had their own meeting the next day and decided not to change their anthem rule, which encourages but does not require players to stand. So, it goes on. There is the belief that the NFL will eventually come up with a proposal to help fund or leverage either legislation or some sort of undefined policy alteration in exchange for a neat, clean national anthem ceremony it can sell to its friends at Budweiser. We’ll see about that, too.
Meanwhile, Jenkins and his co-workers prepare every week for what comes after the anthem, and that is what keeps the nine-year veteran grounded.
“When I step into this building, that’s my escape from everything else,” Jenkins said in the locker room after practice last week. “Life is kind of hectic outside these walls. This is what comes easy. I put in a lot of time in this building. I work hard in the film room, in the weight room. This has actually become the peaceful part of my week.”
The peace will be broken for a few minutes before the game on Monday night, and then will come the chaos of 60 minutes of football. The two lives of Malcolm Jenkins will collide again. It is what he has chosen, although he says that, for him, there’s no other choice. He is where his feet are, whether on the sideline or on the field.