Three of the players whose names appeared on an August memo seeking a push from the NFL into social activism struck an amicable but businesslike tone Thursday, saying there was no bigger platform from which to achieve their goals.
Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins called it an “opportunity for us, being a sport that brings people together naturally to also use that ability to actually effectuate some real change.”
“One of the main things for us is changing the narrative and controlling the narrative,” said Jenkins, who joined Eagles receiver Torrey Smith and Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett in commenting a day after news broke of the memo, which outlined a series of goals it hoped to achieve in conjunction with the NFL, including designating November “a month of Unity” when individual teams would “engage and impact the community in their market.”
“I think one of the reasons you’ve seen players protesting is because there is no bigger platform than the NFL,” Jenkins said. “And to be able to use that exposure and educate people to what’s going on around the communities is huge. That can be even more amplified if the NFL actually steps in and helps aid that education to the public about what’s going on in these cities that NFL stadiums are in.”
Bennett said it “takes a lot for a business or an organization to get behind certain issues,” but that he felt he had the support of commissioner Roger Goodell “as a person and a player.”
“I’ve never had an issue with him,” Bennett said. “We’ve always had good conversations since I’ve known him.”
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy, who was asked if there were any plans to make this upcoming November the “Month of Unity” as has been proposed, said the league continued to speak directly with the players but wouldn’t comment further.
“These conversations are private,” McCarthy said.
Yahoo! Sports reported Wednesday night the letter was prepared shortly after Goodell spoke with several players who had protested on game day before the regular season kicked off.
“We haven’t gotten a reaction just yet,” Bennett said. “Hopefully we’ll have another meeting in the near future. Hopefully something comes out of it. But it’s just the thought of a lot of players coming together and having some ideas about how we can move forward and be able to impact the communities around the United States in cities that NFL teams are in, is just what it’s about.”
Earlier this month, Goodell and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie did agree to a “Listen and Learn” tour that gave them an up-close look at different parts of Philadelphia’s criminal justice system. The group met with police commissioner Richard Ross, former inmates and community advocates of criminal justice reform and observed several bail hearings at the Defender Association of Philadelphia.
“That came from those conversations,” Jenkins said. “That’s ongoing. We’re still working on the next steps. But obviously, there is at least interest to listen and see what players are doing and what’s going on in these communities around the NFL.”
The NFL stands to benefit from partnering up with the player movement, Smith explained. A lot of backlash the league faces is a result of people misunderstanding why some players are demonstrating during the singing of the national anthem prior to kickoff. Helping to educate the masses could lead to greater acceptance, Smith said.
“And guys are fighting for what’s right,” Smith said. “I think if it was something that put people in a bind, I would understand. I think it’s also important because the league catches a lot of heat for protests and things like that, so it’s important for people to know there’s work being done beyond the protest, just as it’s important for people to know that it’s not an anti-police or anti-military thing. It’s just about finding solutions to issues we’re having.”
Smith was asked if greater league involvement, in turn, would lead to fewer protests, as the issues they’re demonstrating for would be recognized.
“I can’t speak on that, but I know it would definitely go a long way towards it,” Smith said.
Former Arizona Cardinals and Baltimore Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin, who retired from the NFL in late August, was also named as a co-author of the memo.
Bennett, who said the memo’s writers hadn’t intended it to become public and that he wasn’t sure how it was leaked, described what the “Month of Unity” might entail.
“It would be like where people could wear different shirts about equality, including gender, race, different issues around the United States that we could bring awareness to pertaining to different communities around America,” Bennett said. “It would be like something like that, where you wear a shirt, you talk about it. It can bring awareness to different issues going on.”
Bennett also pointed to the NBA as a leader in fostering awareness of social issues.
“I think the NBA has done a great job of being able to continuously make money and play a great sport and still be socially aware,” Bennett said. “I think we have to be able to find that same balance in the NFL, be able to play great games, give the fans what they want, but also continuously be human beings and talk about the things that affect us on and off the court. And I think that’s what’s going to make us a unique league on top of all the great players that we have, is what kind of impact we can have in the community on top of what we do on the field.”