WHEN YOU REACH a certain age, precious few athletes whom you stand in front of make you think. This is no one's fault. Most of them are in their 20s, most have been taught during their high school and college years that their views on their world are best kept to themselves, lest they interfere with team-building and team goals.
It's an operating tool that many never shed, even as they prosper, age and observe. For every Charles Barkley, there are dozens of Michael Jordans. For every singular stand, like the one Colin Kaepernick took by sitting down for the national anthem Friday night, there are hundreds, even thousands of reactions, some which demonize, some which distort its intent.
"It's cool what we have, the status that we have," Malcolm Jenkins was saying this week. "But I go home, my two younger brothers have to deal with that stuff. My cousins have to, my entire family. So that's one of the things you can't ignore. And I can't change my skin color, either. So I don't necessarily blame him."
Jenkins is one of those precious few, someone I seem to learn from every time we speak. Earlier this summer, moved by the fatal police shootings - and shootings of police - that have dominated our headlines, he and fellow Eagles Jason Kelce, Jordan Matthews and Najee Goode met with Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross Jr. to discuss, in Jenkins' words, "how to bridge that gap between law enforcement and black communities."
The meeting garnered few headlines. That's on us.
Last Friday, the Chicago Tribune published an analysis that tracked every police-involved shooting in the city over a six-year period, using a police database it obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The report noted that of the 435 shootings - 235 which struck at least one person - four of every five injured were African American males. Half of the police who fired those shots were African American or Hispanic. While that should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the news, this sentence from the story might:
"Nearly 6,000 illegal guns have been seized in the city so far this year - a staggering amount of firepower that far outpaces other big cities."
Said Dean Angelo Sr., president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police: "As a police officer, you don't wait for the shot to come in your direction. You might not get a chance to return fire."
Charles Jenkins, a 61-year-old community activist who has spent his entire life on Chicago's violent West Side, said this at a recent rally, "It's easier to believe, because they're black, that an officer was in fear of their life and get(s) off."
Like most, I support Kaepernick's First Amendment right to protest. Like many, I yearn for the kind of change that his action is about, and, like many, I have not done nearly enough to back up that sentiment. Part of that, I guess, is that while I sympathize with Jenkins' brothers and cousins, I cannot imagine what it's like to walk in their shoes, to be subject to - even in a few hours - what they have been accustomed to for an entire lifetime.
I can't change my skin color, either.
So I listen. I learn, or at least try to, when such frustrations are earnestly expressed. Kaepernick might not be a Niner much longer, because of his play this summer and because of a crippling contractual commitment, should they keep him and be injured. But it will incredibly sad if he's cut and none of the other 31 teams takes a look.
Hell, even Tim Tebow got numerous chances to stick.
And now, to play professional baseball.
Jenkins will tell you: Sitting during the anthem is not something he would do, at least in part because it would offend relatives who served in the U.S. military, including an uncle and grandfather. Kaepernick quickly sought to clarify that his protest was not intended to disrespect those who serve or have served, even adding that returning vets have not escaped discrimination.
But social media was already ablaze - sometimes literally - with videos of burnings and defecations of his Niners jersey, and he is not expected to be greeted warmly on Thursday for the Niners' final exhibition in San Diego, a town that leans heavily on its military presence.
"There are always going to be people who say and do disgusting things," Jenkins said. "But at the end of the day, all the right-minded people should be talking about the reason behind and what it is that he's trying to get across. And that's that minorities and African Americans especially across this nation are being targeted and have a different life than everybody else. Whether you want to talk about systematic racism or police brutality in more situations than before, it's a problem that needs to be fixed.
"And I think it's to the point where you see athletes sitting down who don't necessarily care about what fans think about anymore, or the endorsements, the collateral damage that might come.
"We care only that, at this point, something needs to change."
If nothing else, we can all say Amen to that. And agree, just maybe, that Kaepernick's sit-down, misguided or not, forced out our latest prayer.