They once were brothers-in-arms.
In 2016, Malcolm Jenkins and Eric Reid marched in lockstep on the frontline of the NFL players' quest to relieve what they perceived to be institutional oppression of minorities in America. That seems ages ago. For more than a year, Reid and Jenkins have marched to different drummers.
The latest installment of their one-way, Colin Kaepernick-fueled feud took place Sunday near the 45-yard line at Lincoln Financial Field. Jenkins was walking onto the field when Carolina's Reid crashed the coin toss.
Jenkins, who once protested systemic oppression during the national anthem and helps lead the Players Coalition, was at midfield as an Eagles captain. Reid, who still protests systemic oppression but now considers the Players Coalition to be a consortium of treachery, was not a captain, but he came onto the field anyway. Jenkins broke off and spoke to Reid. Reid afterward said that Jenkins was aggressive. Jenkins refused to comment.
Whatever Jenkins said, Reid responded with a flurry of wild-eyed invective. He had to be restrained by a teammate and a coach. Reid said he called Jenkins a "sellout" on the field.
Reid went much further after the game. Wearing a Kaepernick-themed T-shirt, Reid said Jenkins was "cowardly" and "corrupt." He said Jenkins is an"opportunist," a "neocolonialist" who aligns with oppressors. He said Jenkins premeditatively "co-opted" the Kaepernick movement after Kaepernick, then a 49ers quarterback and Reid's teammate, started sitting, then kneeling, during the national anthem in the 2016 preseason.
Essentially, Reid called Jenkins the worst thing you can call an American black man without using the words "Uncle" and "Tom."
Jenkins, as usual, refused to return fire.
"I would never get up here and say anything bad about somebody I know whose intentions were real about helping their community — especially another black man," Jenkins said. "I respect him. I'm glad he has a job. I'm glad he's back in the league."
This was the first interaction between the Reid and Jenkins since the winter of 2017-18, when Reid, Kaepernick and a small group of hard-line protesters, concerned that the coalition was abandoning Kaepernick and waffling on protesting, began to distance themselves from the coalition. The split was complete within a year, after Jenkins and the coalition secured a 5-year, $89 million commitment from the NFL to fund various initiatives — and, to a large extent, ceased protesting. That has infuriated Reid ever since.
"I think it was James Baldwin who [approximately] said, 'To be black in America and to be relatively conscious is to be in a constant state of anger,' " Reid said. "I'm in a constant state of anger."
Anger at oppression … or at Jenkins?
"Both. Systemic oppression is what I'm protesting, and neocolonialism. It keeps happening," he said with a chuckle of disgust. "I would say he's a neocolonialist."
If so, then Jenkins is a neocolonialist who works tirelessly to fight issues including, and related to, the issues on which Reid and Kaepernick focus. As coalition leaders came closer to acquiring concessions and commitments from the NFL, Jenkins and the leaders of the coalition repeatedly asked Kaepernick and Reid to be a part of the coalition. They repeatedly declined.
Kaepernick, a free agent since the end of the 2016 season, is in the midst of a lawsuit against the NFL that contends the NFL has colluded to keep him out of the league. Reid, who became a free agent after the 2017 season and went unsigned until Sept. 27, also has an active lawsuit, even though he has a job.
He's not one to bury hatchets, nor to negotiate peaceably. His dust-up with Jenkins happened before the game, on the field, where everyone was sure to see. Reid's anger simply overwhelmed him. And, early in the game, he played like a man unhinged.
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In the first quarter, he threw quarterback Carson Wentz to the ground a full second after Wentz handed the ball off, which drew an unnecessary-roughness penalty. Reid was so inflamed that, even after the game, he didn't know he'd been called for the penalty. (The penalty was offset when Zach Ertz, in defense of Wentz, unwisely charged Reid, who deftly flipped Ertz over his shoulder.)
Later, Reid whiffed on a tackle that allowed Alshon Jeffery a 20-yard gain. He then got into a shoving match with Dallas Goedert. Panthers coach Ron Rivera briefly benched Reid but explained later that Reid coming out in the second quarter was part of the Panthers' normal defensive-back rotation.
However, Rivera also said this: "As long as we're able to keep him under control — and I don't want to use that word, 'control' — as long as we're able to get him calm, so he can get focused back on playing the game."
Reid was calm afterward. He wore a black-and-white "I Know My Rights" T-shirt promoting the empowerment campaign that Kaepernick founded.
And he was direct, and seething, about Jenkins.
"He was corrupt from the jump. His goal was to sell us out," Reid said. "And he did that."
If Jenkins did have some diabolical plan in mind, then he has been satisfied that the NFL has done all it can. The lofty but indistinct goal of Reid and his camp would seemingly mean endless protest. What would persuade Reid to stand for the anthem?
"There needs to be change. Actual change. Systemic change," he said. Told that it might take years to affect institutional, cultural, systemic change, and that he might spend the rest of his career kneeling, he replied, "It didn't take long for the president [Donald Trump] to militarize police."
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Of course, the alarming incidence of police brutality that led to Kaepernick kneeling predated Trump's election in 2016, but Reid — and Jenkins, for that matter — see the problem in a much larger scope.
"When they play the anthem, I think of 400 years of systemic oppression," Reid said. "I think of Emmitt Till. I think of Sandra Bland. I think of Alton Sterling. I think of Philando Castile. And I'm enraged. Because this system perpetuates systemic oppression, and America's lying to us about the home of the free and the land of the brave."
On this, he and Jenkins agree.
"I think at the end of the day when I look up at what's going on right now in our country and in our league, I'm very, very proud of guys like Eric Reid and Colin Kaepernick," Jenkins said.
The feeling, for Reid, is not mutual.
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