Malik Jackson’s strategic wardrobe choice foreshadowed what was to come.
The Eagles' defensive tackle wore a red hat that at first glance resembled the “Make America Great Again” caps donned by President Donald Trump and his supporters. The text on Jackson’s cap scratched out “Great Again” and instead read “Make America arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor.”
When asked about his hat and his feelings about the NFL’s efforts to support players speaking out against racial injustice and inequality in America, Jackson said there was more work to be done. He also revealed the demonstration the Eagles laid out for the season opener, which didn’t come to fruition.
Jackson said the Eagles, who have a social justice coalition that includes players, coaches, and team executives, wanted to kneel during the opening kickoff in unison with the Washington Football Team, but Washington’s players didn’t want to. English Premier League soccer players made a similar gesture during the opening slate of games this summer.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the Washington Football Team on board,” Jackson said. “We wanted to do the whole Premier League [thing], when they take a knee before they kick the ball off for 20 or 40 seconds. That’s what we wanted to do before the kickoff, both teams take a knee, and then decline the penalty and kick the ball off.”
Instead, the teams agreed to stand in the middle of the field roughly 20 minutes before kickoff with locked arms to a rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing," a song to honor Black culture. The Eagles stayed in the locker room during the national anthem, while Washington stood on the sideline.
“It’s hard logistically,” Jackson said about coming to an agreement with Washington. “I think a lot of people just want to play football and don’t want to worry about this stuff. When you bring people in to try to get both teams to do something, it’s hard, because it’s a lot more voices.”
Jackson added that he wanted to do something more tangible than locking arms.
“I just hope we can do something where people can truly say how they feel,” he said. “Not during the anthem, because I personally feel like we should stand for that. But another time.”
Jackson echoed the request made by Eagles safety Rodney McLeod to team owners during training camp to help players fight racial inequality.
The 30-year-old called for the entire group of owners, not just individual owners, to do their part instead of “hiding behind the shield.”
Better representation in front-office jobs would be good to see, he said.
“As an employee, it’s kind of hard for me to tell an owner what they should do,” Jackson said. "But as a Black person, I would like to see more guys hired that look like me. I think we have a whole league that 70% looks like me. I think it’d be nice to have the upstairs look like that. But, as an employee, it’s hard for me to sit here and tell you what I think should be done; I just think something should be done.”
The Eagles have no Black men or women in their ownership group or front office. Last season, Andrew Berry, a Black man, was the team’s vice president of football operations, but he was hired as the Cleveland Brown’s general manager in the offseason.
Jackson chose not to address that lack of diversity, possibly to avoid criticizing owner Jeffrey Lurie, who he praised for the work he’s done and that he’s calling on more owners to do.
“If we can get other owners to be like Mr. Lurie, then I think it will be a stronger message," Jackson said.
As his hat indicated, Jackson also had something to say about Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman who was killed in her home by police in Kentucky in March. The city of Louisville agreed this week to pay $12 million to settle her family’s wrongful death lawsuit and to work to reform policing in the city.
Jackson contended that the money for Taylor’s family should not come from taxpayer funds, but instead from police unions.
“They paid that money, I think that’s huge," Jackson said. "I personally feel like we need to change the culture of citizens paying tax dollars to fund what the police are doing out here. If we can get the police unions that are backing these guys to do stuff, have them start paying, like we have to pay out of our money when we have conduct detrimental or anything, it would be a lot better example.
"Thank you to Kentucky’s judicial system for paying that family, but I don’t think it’s enough.”