The idea of “distraction” is a canard in football, a term used by coaches and teams to hide from anything that upsets, confuses or challenges them. Substitute the word “discomfort” any time you hear it, and we will all be a bit closer to the truth.
In the same locker rooms that welcome sexual predators and violent assailants of all shapes and sizes who “just want to concentrate on football,” others are considered too much for the organization to handle. Take quarterback Colin Kaepernick, for example, who dared to use peaceful silent protest to call attention to widespread racial injustice. In the months since his decision to kneel during the national anthem, he has put his money behind his symbolism by donating over $500,000 to a variety of social causes and pledging more than $500,000 more in this year alone.
And because of that, no NFL team will call him. He is better than several current starters and a clear upgrade over almost all second-stringers. Kaepernick in his prime at age 29 and is coming off a season in which he finished with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions for a 90.7 passer rating on a 49ers team devoid of receivers.
But his activism “distracts,” in the eyes of coaches, despite the fact that it doesn’t and didn’t. Teams still remain frightened of angering closed-minded fans, or even creating situations that could spark questions about how they see the world.
Yet somehow, Malcolm Jenkins is doing just fine at his latest stop in Philadelphia, where the respected veteran safety was named the 2017 NFL Man of the Year by the NFLPA for his work in the community. And all he has been up to lately is working in Washington, meeting with legislators to urge them to act on a variety of reforms to improve relationships between minority communities and police. As reported by the Associated Press, Jenkins, wide receiver Anquan Boldin and other current and former players are making their case both by talking with individual members of congress and speaking at an upcoming forum.
On the agenda for Jenkins is an end to private, for-profit prisons and the mandatory-minimum sentencing laws designed to keep them fed with inmates. They want parties to bridge ideological gaps to find more fair policies that can prevent crimes at root causes instead of simply ratcheting up enforcement. They want to build bonds between citizens and police, lessening fear and distrust.
It is the second trip to the nation’s capitol for Jenkins and Boldin in the last five months as part of this effort. At no time has this stood in the way of football business for either the Eagles or Lions, nor has it had any negative impact on their respective relationships with fans in either city. The 29-year-old Jenkins is set to play in Philadelphia again this year, while the 36-year-old Boldin mulls retirement after 14 seasons.
Jenkins told the AP that the widespread availability of video has awakened people to iniquity and mistreatment of minorities at the hands of police, and he is acting on that awareness. “People are starting to see what this looks like,” he said. “And now those who weren’t exposed to it before are forced to choose a side and forced to deal with this issue. And that is what’s dividing our country. The problem has been there. And it’s always been there. But it’s becoming harder for us to sweep it under the rug.”
That sounds just like what Kaepernick said he was pointing out by his actions, when he explained his stance against widespread oppression and his ongoing personal contributions of time and hundreds of thousands of dollars to make his world a better place.
One guy gets an award, and the other can’t get his phone to ring.