Bowen: Eagles' Jenkins defends Tavarres in anthem flap

THE GAME ITSELF might not be all that interesting, when the Eagles host the Jets on Thursday night in the final preseason matchup for both teams, with very few starters scheduled to take part.

But in the press box, at least, every set of binoculars will be trained on the field for the national anthem, to see whether anyone isn't standing.

Eagles coach Doug Pederson acknowledged Tuesday that he has spoken to his team about the anthem, in the wake of rookie linebacker Myke Tavarres telling ESPN on Monday that he planned to join 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in protesting racism by sitting out the song. Tavarres changed his mind a few hours later, after getting negative reaction, he said, from his agent and his college coaches at Incarnate Word.

Tavarres released a statement through his agent late Monday, apologizing for becoming "a distraction . . . to all of Eagle nation."

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"I can appreciate everybody's opinions, and I respect everybody's opinions, but at the same time, I feel that it's important (to stand)," Pederson said. "It's obviously out of respect for the men and women of our country that sacrificed, in order for us to coach and play this great game. So, I get it, I understand it, but at the same time, I encourage everybody to stand."

When reporters got to the locker room Tuesday, Tavarres let it be known he would not speak. As the gaggle of cameras and recorders around his locker grew, teammates noticed and began joking about the sudden attention for an undrafted rookie from Incarnate Word. Some pulled out their phones to shoot video.

The basic mood was "Ha, ha, rookie, nice job, there!"

Veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins, whose locker stands at the other end of the long, narrow, vaulted-ceilinged room, wasn't laughing.

"It's easier to isolate and tear down a guy nobody really knows about" as opposed to a Carmelo Anthony or a LeBron James, Jenkins said. "(Critics) don't respect him as a player, so it's easy to kind of kick him to the curb. But when you have somebody with a prominent voice who's been a role model, displayed all the things you want in a leader and a person, to finally stand up, then you're forced to listen."

Monday, the Tavarres matter quickly became focused on whether he was standing or sitting, and not so much on why he might have been thinking of sitting. That clearly bothered Jenkins.

"The announcement was probably premature," said Jenkins, who wished news had not leaked of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz hosting a group discussion of the subject. (Schwartz was not available to reporters.)

Tavarres' initial response grew out of that meeting. Jenkins seemed to be suggesting that the dialogue within the team on the subject, about how to form an appropriate response on the topic, wasn't complete when Tavarres went public with his support of Kaepernick.

The "Crossing Broad" blog found a July 4 photo Tavarres had posted on social media of himself in a red, white and blue, flag-themed swimsuit, which led to understandable ridicule.

"He's a young player that sees what's going on in America, that sees all the issues, and wants to do something," Jenkins said. "I totally agree with what he wants to do" - that is, bring a spotlight onto racism. "Now, how he chooses to convey that, or get that message out there, is completely up to him. I've spoken to him multiple times, and I have his back, whatever he wants to do, because, at the end of the day, the issues are the issues. If somebody else gets offended, that's fine, because the things that he's (protesting) are just as egregious" as sitting for the anthem might seem to those other folks.

How can someone like Myke Tavarres, a guy who might just barely make the Eagles' roster, or maybe end up on the practice squad, effect change in society?

"The biggest thing is use his stage," Jenkins said. "People hate when we do it . . . We have the stage, and people want us to be role models, and want us to be these upstanding citizens, so long as it doesn't go against what they believe in.

"The majority of the NFL's African American. We are the role models of a lot of African American communities. If we, with the stage that we have and the success that we have, try to ignore the issues that affect the African American community, then what message are we sending to those coming up behind us?"

Fans and reporters made uncomfortable by that discussion might prefer players just "talk about the Eagles and talk about football, but we have a bigger responsibility to the kids and the communities that look up to us, the kids and communities that most of us have come from," Jenkins said. "We can't forget about that."

Jenkins said he was among those who talked to Tavarres after the ESPN report created a stir. He said Tavarres had already changed his mind about sitting out the anthem when they spoke.

"After talking with his family, he talked to me a few times, and just weighing his options, he changed his mind about the way he wanted to go about expressing what he thought," Jenkins said. Though the ESPN report quoted Tavarres, Jenkins suggested Tavarres "hadn't quite made that decision at that point in time."

"Unfortunately, that puts him in a bad light and everybody in a bad light, really, when you talk about just being able to have candid conversations in the locker room . . . I think he's got the full support of everybody in the locker room. We're all behind him. He's got deep convictions, along with some other guys in this locker room, myself included," Jenkins said.

"He's a young guy who's searching for a way to do something . . . This is the biggest thing he's had in his life, the biggest platform, and he wants to do something with it, to effect change."


bowenl@phillynews.com

@LesBowen

Blog: philly.com/Eaglesblog