Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Will Malcolm Jenkins and Michael Bennett protest in the Eagles’ preseason opener? They’re undecided. | Marcus Hayes

NFL owners decided to move the goal posts on the anthem issue, so the ball is back in the hands of the players.

Malcolm Jenkins is unsure if he will protest during the preseason.
Malcolm Jenkins is unsure if he will protest during the preseason.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

Thursday night,  we find out what comes next.

Malcolm Jenkins' leadership and the Eagles' Super Bowl success have made Philadelphia the epicenter of player protests for social justice — an issue that was healing nicely, if imperfectly.

Then, in May, in a move that showed remarkable idiocy even for the NFL, the owners tore the scab from that still-seeping wound by instituting draconian penalties for protesting during the national anthem. For a workforce that operates under a collective bargaining agreement, the rules seemed to clearly violate labor laws. Worse, the rules ruined any hope that the protesters — most of whom had stopped protesting — would ever trust the NFL again.

When the Eagles host the Steelers on Thursday night, we'll find out what comes next.

Will Jenkins, the movement's foremost spokesman, raise his fist again?

"I'm not sure yet," Jenkins said Monday after practice, sweating freely in the 90-degree shade. "I honestly haven't thought about it."

Will former Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett, now an Eagle, continue to sit out the anthem? That's how this all got started; 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick was spotted sitting during the anthem before a 2016 preseason game.

"I haven't thought about it, either," Bennett said. "Ask me another day."

>> READ MORE: Malcolm Jenkins wants Jeffrey Lurie to speak out against 'bully' Jerry Jones

That day will be Thursday, since both Jenkins and Bennett said they won't decide what they will do until Wednesday at the earliest. Players are not available to the press after Tuesday.

They should protest, of course. It would cause a new headache for the NFL, and it's a headache the NFL deserves.

After Jenkins and Players Coalition cofounder Anquan Boldin negotiated an $89 million commitment from the NFL in November to further social change,  the league tried to implement an anthem policy that was not collectively bargained. The Players Association filed a grievance in July, and both sides agreed that the league would not enforce its new policy while the sides negotiated. That's where things stand.

>> FROM THE ARCHIVES: Malcolm Jenkins' Super Bowl hit exemplifies problems with new NFL rule

Jenkins said the Players Coalition might make a statement concerning the matter.

"We will probably have an op-ed or something drop Wednesday," he said. We? "The Players Coalition."

That sounds juicy.

Jenkins is the Eagles' representative to the Players Association, but he is not part of the 11-player executive board, which is involved in negotiating an anthem policy. Jenkins said he was not privy to the state of the negotiations. However, he will make a few calls before he makes his decision Thursday night.

"I definitely want to know where they stand," Jenkins said.

A protest by the most-decorated members of the world champion's defensive unit certainly would spark a little movement in the talks, especially if Chris Long, who is white, continues to stand alongside Jenkins and support him. Jenkins is a diplomat, more comfortable talking about these issues while wearing a bow tie than a neck roll, and so he is especially dismayed by this moment. Before the league betrayed them, Jenkins and most of the players in the coalition didn't consider protesting to be an issue this season.

"It wouldn't be," Jenkins said.

>> FROM THE ARCHIVES: Malcolm Jenkins stopped protesting, but the NFL's new policy is making him reconsider

He shifted his helmet to his left hand to free his right to gesture and stroke his beard — a sign he was warming to a subject that irritates him.

"It would have moved to a point where we were working together to draw some awareness to these issues and put some more action to the effort to amplify what players are taking about," he continued. "Talking out of both sides [of their mouth] on behalf of the owners has put players in a place where we don't trust the league's intentions, and we don't trust the intentions of the owners."

All eyes will look to Philadelphia this week. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said last year that he supported players who protest with a clear plan in mind, which perfectly describes Jenkins, Long and, now, Bennett — though Lurie has not followed the lead of Jets and Giants executives, who say they will not punish protesters if the league's new rules stay in place. Then again, courage isn't exactly a hallmark of NFL ownership.

The league's strong-arm posturing happened even as some owners, the Players Coalition, and several independent players took steps to chip away at the social injustices that are the target of the protests. Several players cooperated with league-produced public-service announcements this offseason, Jenkins said. Both sides were involved in endorsing social reform legislation in PennsylvaniaMassachusetts, New York, and Ohio — even as the owners tried to bring the players to heel.

"Obviously, it's hard for players to buy in to what they're doing," Jenkins said.

>> READ MORE: Is Michael Bennett willing to take a lesser role in the Eagles' defense?

Jenkins' pet project this summer involved highlighting the importance of fair-minded district attorneys, and that meant sending coalition representatives to races in California, Maryland, and Massachusetts. But Jenkins' activities are just a drop in a very large bucket. Players from all over the league have begun following the lead of Jenkins and the coalition.

"Guys have been very active. Guys are starting to find different avenues, different ways they can contribute," Jenkins said. "People are beginning to see this is bigger than just the two minutes of the national anthem."

They were beginning to see things more comprehensively — until the NFL decided, for no good reason, to shake the hornets' nest.

Now, we'll see what's next.