PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins opted not to speak during his media availability Wednesday. Instead, he held up signs highlighting the work of NFL players in the community and facts related to social justice matters every time a question about the cancellation of the White House visit was raised.
On Wednesday evening, Jenkins broke his silence and explained the motivation behind that action in a one-on-one interview with ESPN.
"I'm tired of the narrative being about the anthem, about the White House or whatever," he said following a meeting in downtown Philadelphia with top public defenders from around the country on the issue of bail reform. "The issues are the issues. And the reason that we're doing any of this is because we have these huge disparities in our criminal justice system; we have this issue of mass incarceration; we have issues of police brutality; our children and access to education and economic advancement is nonexistent in communities of color. And these things are systemic; there are ways that we can change them.
"And for me, I feel like this is the time to do that. And so, that message can't continue to be ignored. And that's what I think has been happening up until this point. So we just have to continue to stay on topic and continue to push the issues -- and not this narrative of who's right and who's wrong, but what are the reasons why players are even so passionate about this."
The story that has dominated the headlines is the White House cancelling on the Eagles a day before the scheduled visit, accusing them of a "political stunt" by notifying the White House at the last minute that only a small contingent of players would attend.
The team had been deliberating for weeks how to best approach the trip to make it an experience the players could agree on and share together. One idea that was considered during those talks was having a group of players meet with the president to discuss issues of importance to them.
"An opportunity, I think, was floated around as an idea," Jenkins said of a sit-down with President Donald Trump. "But a lot of that back-and-forth with the White House was not -- we as a team weren't necessarily privy to that information; that was kinda going between team executives and the White House. And so as players, I think it was left up to each individual what they wanted to do; they were gonna have some options. But then ultimately, the decision was to only send a few guys, and then obviously it got cancelled after that."
Jenkins said he does not view the proposed sit-down with the president as an opportunity lost, saying most inroads concerning the issues he's fighting for are made at the local level.
To that end, Jenkins and two other Eagles -- fellow safety Rodney McLeod and defensive end Chris Long -- met with chief public defenders from around the country after Wednesday's practice to gain knowledge about the bail system. The Players Coalition, which was founded by Jenkins and former NFL wideout Anquan Boldin, is gearing up to make a big push on bail reform, so the Eagles trio participated in an hour-and-a-half session with the chief defenders to help formulate an action plan to make the best use of their efforts and influence.
The Players Coalition joined in a partnership with the NFL in November that calls for the league to contribute $89 million over seven years to projects dealing with criminal justice reform, law enforcement/community relations and education. Jenkins stopped protesting during the national anthem after that partnership was forged.
The league's new anthem policy, which requires players to stand if they are on the field during the playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner," has added fuel to the controversy and politicization surrounding the issue in recent weeks. Jenkins, though, does not believe it will have an impact on the Players Coalition's efforts.
"I'm not sure about the whole anthem policy. But I know that won't affect our work outside of that. We've been doing work outside of the anthem since the beginning. Before the anthem even started, players were involved in these types of social justice issues," Jenkins said. "The anthem protests or demonstrations just brought eyes and attention to it.
"And so for us, it's just continuing to do the work, continuing to share our message to those who actually even want to hear it, to stay on topic and not really get into arguments about what's right, what's wrong -- 'cause those are all excuses for people to not listen to you. And so for us, it's staying on topic, doing the work, supporting those who are doing the work and pushing forward."
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