Eagles players meet with local authorities to talk about change in wake of protests about police brutality

The Eagles' Malcolm Jenkins and others sit down with Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross Jr. to discuss Black Lives Matter and other issues Thursday, July 21, 2016.

It was the start of the 2016 ESPY Awards and there were four superstars onstage - LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul - standing extra tall as they spoke out against police brutality and called on their fellow athletes to do the same.

It was a powerful moment. All those multi-millionaire athletes. Each his own mega-brand. Standing up for something besides just getting richer and winning NBA championships.

My favorite part was when James, dressed in a classic black tuxedo, gazed into a camera and said, "It's time to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, 'what are we doing to bring about change?'" It was a powerful statement. Pause a moment and let that sink in. He said, "...what are we doing to bring about change?"

I found myself thinking about last week's ESPY opener yesterday while sitting in a crowded conference room at Philadelphia Police headquarters at Seventh and Race Streets.

Eagles Malcolm Jenkins, Jordan Matthews, Jason Kelce and Najee Goode as well as Al-hajj Shabazz, a cornerback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, were there sitting around a table discussing ways they could help improve relations between local communities and the police.

I'll admit that when I first heard that they were going to meet with Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross Jr., my brain went, yeah, right. Why not just meet, do your thing and not invite the press?

But once I was there, I started buying in. Their vibe was real. Those athletes didn't have to be there in that stuffy, conference room with its out-dated decor talking about their concerns with policing. That's not their life.

But there they were trying to help find ways to partner with police and communities to improve relations so what happened to Alton Sterling and Philando Castile - black men killed in back-to-back police shootings - doesn't continue to happen.

Sterling was a poor father of five trying to make extra money selling CDs in Baton Rouge when police confronted him and wound up shooting him dead. Castile was another poor man. He worked in a school cafeteria and he was out driving with his girlfriend when he got pulled over by a police officer who shot him four times, mortally wounding him.

And let's not forget the eight officers tragically killed - five in Dallas and three in Louisiana - who were of modest means as well.

The emphasis Thursday was on real talk such as when Ross candidly pointed out, "It's like I even say to men and women in blue. 'You can't get upset when people want to call a wrong a wrong.'"

"'It's not an indictment of an entire profession and you can't be so defensive about that,'" Ross added.

(That was timely too because an officer who spotted reporters waiting in a lobby had walked in and let loose with an ear full of how poorly he thought police have been treated in the media lately.)

Jenkins, an Eagles safety, was inspired, in part, by the stand that the NBA stars took at the ESPYs, but already had been planning to do something around the topic of violence.

"The country has been outraged with some of the stuff that's going on when you talk about shootings of what seem to be innocent men across the country as well as shootings against police officers," Jenkins said as the players stood up to leave.

"There's an obvious need for reconciliation when you talk about those two communities. As someone who's in the community, as somebody who has a platform, I wanted to see if there's a way that we can break that ice and just start the conversation . . . and use the resources of the guys that's in this room to help facilitate that."

Last week, he reached out to Maxwell Brown, the former community partnership liaison in the city's office of community services, who helped arrange the sitdown with Ross to at least begin a conversation.

I asked Brown what he would say to naysayers who might consider all the well-paid pro athletes gathered in that room and poo poo what they're trying to do. "The other option is giving up and accepting things as they are," said Brown, a personal turn-around-expert. "That would be an injustice to our ancestors and what they fought for."

The way I see it, the players are to be commended. At least they're trying to use their platforms for something besides themselves. As James said so pointedly at the ESPYs, "We all have to do better."


@JeniceArmstrong

Blog: ph.ly/HeyJen

armstrj@phillynews.com