Eagles’ Victory Proves That Activism Is Not A Distraction

It’s time to put that falsehood to rest.

Malcolm Jenkins. Photo by Chris Szagola/Associated Press.

If nothing else, the Philadelphia Eagles’ thrilling and unexpected 41-33 victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII should put to rest one hoary NFL trope: that political activism is a hindrance to winning.

The idea that any behavior or speech from a player that isn’t narrowly limited to football itself is a “distraction” to be eliminated altogether has been a longstanding NFL shibboleth. Coaches and NFL media alike have employed the term in reference to a wide range of off-limit topics — like, say, protests during the national anthem — with the potential to throw a wrench into the military-like discipline needed for success on the field.

But during the 2017 season, a slew of prominent Eagles players advocated for social justice issues … and it didn’t cause the locker room to fracture. Far from it.

While a couple of players compartmentalized the activist efforts of their teammates, the vast majority praised the courage of players like safety Malcolm Jenkins and defensive end Chris Long. “What Malcolm and Chris preached on a national level they brought right here into this locker room in their example,” assistant coach and former Eagles running back Duce Staley told SB Nation, praising their leadership skills. “We are all better for it.”

Jenkins, whom The Ringer described as the team’s “undisputed leader, its soul, and its conscience,” has been raising a fist in protest during the national anthem since the 2016 season.

He and other Eagles were joined in the preseason by Long, becoming the first white player to join the protests against state-sanctioned violence and systemic racism. “I think it’s a good time for people that look like me to be here for people that are fighting for equality,” Long told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

When white supremacists rallied in Long’s hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia, the 10-year NFL veteran was enraged. “I think it’s unfortunate that it happened in my hometown, but it’s unfortunate more so that it exists in America,” Long said. “White supremacy, there’s no place for it.”

But he chose to channel that anger, donating the salary he earned during the final 10 weeks of the season to educational charities in Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Boston, after initially using the first six game checks to create scholarships in Charlottesville.

Similarly, Long partnered with offensive lineman Lane Johnson during the playoffs, selling underdog-themed t-shirts and giving the profits to needy school districts in Philadelphia. “They need all the resources they can get, because they don’t have a whole lot,” Johnson told the New York Daily News. “Especially coming where I come from (Texas) and seeing what these kids have, they need all the help they can get.”

Jenkins also was a leading figure in the Players Coalition, which lobbied the NFL to contribute funds to social justice issues and organizations supported by the players — though serious questions remain as to how the NFL will dole out the $89 million it has promised and who, exactly, will retain control of those dollars.

Jenkins, Long, and wide receiver Torrey Smith also lobbied Congress to demand changes to the criminal justice system and convinced the NFL to take the rare step of supporting their preferred legislation. Jenkins has also backed the Clean Slate Act, which would seal the records for the majority of those convicted of misdemeanors after 10 years.

For his efforts, Jenkins was named a finalist for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which honors volunteer and charitable efforts. (J.J. Watt received the award on Feb. 3.)

Naturally, Jenkins, Long, and Smith have already announced that they won’t be visiting the White House should the team receive an invitation from Donald Trump. As Super Bowl champions and vanquishers of Trump’s favorite team, they’ve earned that right.

Hopefully, the falsehood that activism deters winning has been vanquished from the League as well. The players have earned it.

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