On Wednesday, Michael Bennett—who sits in protest of the national anthem, and was promptly challenged by a local columnist to quit football if he wants to have political opinions—said things would be very different if it weren’t only black players protesting. “It would take a white player to really get things changed,” Bennett said on SportsCenter. “It would change the whole conversation. Because when you bring somebody who doesn’t have to be a part of [the] conversation making himself vulnerable in front of it, I think when that happens, things will really take a jump.” Time to jump.
Eagles DE Chris Long made a statement of support, putting his arm around safety Malcolm Jenkins as Jenkins raised a fist for the length of the anthem before Philadelphia’s preseason win over the Bills. And if there was any doubt what Long was doing, the Charlottesville, Va., native made it clear:
“It’s been a hard week for everybody,” Long said postgame. “It’s not just a hard week for someone being from Charlottesville. It’s a tough week for America.
“I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘Why do athletes get involved in the national anthem protests?’ I’ve said before that I’ll never kneel for an anthem because the flag means something different for everybody in this country, but I support my peers. If you don’t see why you need allies for people that are fighting for equality right now, I don’t think you’ll ever see it.
“Malcolm is a leader and I’m here to show support as a white athlete.”
Long is the first white football player to participate in the anthem demonstrations (or at least the first anyone’s noticed; remember, both Colin Kaepernick and Marshawn Lynch sat for the anthem before anyone took note). But he’s been politically active on Twitter for a long time, especially so this week after the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, and what he’s described as an inadequate response from President Trump.
Jenkins’s protest, which he undertook last season and says he will continue this year, concerns issues wider and deeper than, though thoroughly interconnected with, Charlottesville and Trump. He laid them out in a statement last week, and encouraged his fellow NFL players to join him.
“Last season, I raised my fist as a sign of solidarity to support people, especially people of color, who were and are still unjustly losing their lives at the hands of officers with little to no consequence. After spending time with police officers on ride-alongs, meeting with politicians on the state and federal level and grass roots organizations fighting for human rights, it’s clear that our criminal justice system is still crippling communities of color through mass incarceration.”
“I want to thank those that have dedicated their lives to this fight, as I know that it is not easy. And I want to challenge those who stay silent to be courageous and use your platforms to become part of the solution.”
Long, then, answered his teammate’s challenge, in a simple and powerful way. “I just told Malcolm, ‘I’m here for you,’” Long said.