NFL players and owners will soon consider just what their next move is in the cacophonous debate over player demonstrations during the national anthem and, with owners such as Jerry Jones threatening to command players to stand, one player thinks the situation could grow “messier.”
Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long, one of the first white players to support a teammate who was taking a knee to raise awareness of police brutality and social injustice, is among those players who has been concerned as the players’ message has been subverted, misplacing the focus of demonstrations on the military. Long stepped up his activism over the summer, after Michael Bennett said it would take a white player protesting racial injustice to “really get things changed” and after violence involving white supremacists in his Charlottesville hometown cost a young woman her life. Since then, he has placed his hand on teammate Malcolm Jenkins’s back as Jenkins raised his fist during the national anthem and was inspired to donate six game checks this season to fund scholarships at the high school he attended.
“I wanna know about all these people who are all of the sudden the troops’ biggest supporters that haven’t done s— for our military 365 days a year. All they do is dress up in patriotic clothing and drink beer on the Fourth of July and then all of a sudden when a black guy gets up and says, ‘There’s something I wanna talk about,’ they hide behind the troops and the flag,” Long told SI.com’s “Off the Board with Jimmy Traina” podcast. “I just think it’s an insult. If that’s what you’re doing, it’s an insult to our veterans because as somebody who deeply cares about our veterans and has tried to engage in things off the field that prop our veterans up, this has been a tough thing for me to grapple with at times.
“But I think it’s the right thing. One of my good friends, [former Green Beret] Nate Boyer, who has been in the mix here with [Colin] Kaepernick here, influencing him to take a knee rather than sit, he’s a guy who speaks so eloquently about it. He fought for that right, whether he agrees with it or not as the form of protest that is our right as American citizens.”
Boyer played briefly in the NFL two years ago and talked with Kaepernick a little more than a year ago about his protest. Long, like other players, regrets that the subversion of the message they’ve been trying to deliver since Kaepernick began kneeling in the summer of 2016. It’s a measure of how sidetracked the message has become that Trump told Vice President Pence to walk out of the Indianapolis Colts game Sunday when 49ers players knelt for the anthem. Long said it has been “chaotic” as “the initial purpose for the protest, which is criminal justice reform and increased police accountability” became lost.
“At the end of the day at this point, I think it’s important for the league to continue to try to investigate how they can provide a better vehicle for players to promote the things they’re trying to accomplish in the community as they relate to injustice, inequality and things they want to get done legislatively in their communities,” Long said. “I believe if the league put their best foot forward and provides the lifeblood of the league, which are the players, the opportunity to do this in a better vehicle than the national anthem, then you might see less people kneeling, but I don’t think mandating that players can’t kneel is gonna be the answer. I think you’ll see a messier situation.”
It’s up to owners and players now, who will work out a solution that allows games to return to the forefront. Maybe it’s as simple an answer as keeping teams in the locker rooms until after the anthem plays, as was the custom before 2009. Jenkins, for one, says he’d continue his demonstration even if Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie threatened punishment.
“I’m grateful that Jeffrey Lurie not only did not express those kinds of feelings but has proactively been in the community and has reached out to try and hear about the issues that we are actually demonstrating to draw attention to,” Jenkins said of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ promise to bench players who did not stand for the anthem. “If [Lurie] were to put out such a statement, I’d continue my demonstration, because my demonstration is in no way disrespectful to our flag, our country or our service members. Neither is anybody in the league who is kneeling.
“I think we’ve made that very clear that what we are demonstrating about has nothing to do with the flag but everything to do with social injustice, racial inequality and the things that, you know, Jerry Jones and other owners who are making statements have yet to address.”
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