There’s a lot to be mad about when you’re Black in America. Carolina Panthers Eric Reid made that clear this past Sunday when he quoted author James Baldwin in a post-game interview:
This might explain why Reid confronted Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins during the coin toss on Sunday’s game. However, it doesn’t excuse the fact that he also called Jenkins a “sellout” and a neocolonialist during the post-game interviews.
Reid and Jenkins have both been active members of the protests against police brutality and systematic oppression that were sparked in 2016 by former San Francisco 49ers Colin Kaepernick.
Reid was the first to join Kaepernick in kneeling during the national anthem, but not long after, Jenkins, who has always been vocal about police shootings and social injustices in the United States, decided to join the fight as well.
However, unlike Kaepernick and many other NFL players, he didn’t sit or kneel. Instead, Jenkins united with three other Eagles players in raising their fists during the anthem. He continued the demonstration until the end of the 2017–18 season.
In an interview with The Atlantic’s Louisa Thomas, Jenkins revealed that the reason he raised his fist is because he “understood the significance and the history of that gesture,” and knew no one could misconstrue it:
“The Olympics, Tommie Smith and John Carlos [who gave the black-power salute at the 1968 Games]—no one could misconstrue the significance. I saw Colin sitting, and no one knew the story, so his story was told for him.”
According to Thomas, “Jenkins had noted how much confusion there was over what, exactly, Kaepernick was doing.”
“Often his gesture was described as a protest of the anthem itself, or even as a protest of service members who had fought and died for the country,” Thomas wrote.
In reality, those were never Kaepernick’s intentions. In fact, he began his protest by sitting during the anthem but switched to kneeling after former Green Beret Nate Boyer suggested it would be a more respectful gesture.
Of course, Jenkins knew all this. He saw how Kaepernick’s actions were so quickly twisted by critics and didn’t want his own form of protest to overshadow the movement’s ultimate message of racial equality.
That’s why, along with raising his fist, Jenkins also “co-founded the Players Coalition with the former wide receiver Anquan Boldin to focus on criminal-justice reform, police and community relations, and education and economic advancement in low-income communities and communities of color.”
According to Thomas, “it now includes more than 75 current and former players, led by a voting board of 12.”
Since its establishment, the Players Coalition has “not only defended the right to protest” but has also helped convince the league to “contribute $89 million over seven years to projects dealing with criminal justice reform, law enforcement/community relations and education.“
According to ESPN’s Jim Trotter and Jason Reid, “The agreement calls for national funds to be allocated accordingly: 25 percent to the United Negro College Fund; 25 percent to Dream Corps; and 50 percent to the Players Coalition, which has filed 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) paperwork for nonprofit status as a fiscally sponsored project.“
“This week, the coalition hired The Hopewell Fund to oversee and advise the group, which hopes to work with grassroots and nonprofit organizations.”
Say what you want, but the fact that the coalition has not only persuaded the NFL to commit money to social justice issues but has also pledged to protect its players shows incredible courage—especially since they’re essentially going up against the president of the United States to do so.
In a campaign rally in Huntsville, Alabama last year, President Donald Trump called on NFL owners to fire players protesting during the national anthem:
Nevertheless, there has been a lot of blowback since the NFL’s $89 million commitment was announced, most recently, of course, from Eric Reid.
Reid was initially part of the Players Coalition but started to butt heads with the group during negotiations with the league. According to Rory O’Toole in “Eric Reid, Malcolm Jenkins & the politics of compromise,” “Reid and a few other members began to have disagreements with Boldin and Jenkins over what exactly was being discussed and who would spearhead the process.”
Since Kaepernick was the one to launch the protests and was being blackballed by team owners as a result, Reid believed he should’ve led the negotiations. He also “demanded that the coalition require an NFL team to sign Kaepernick before any kind of deal was discussed.”
Again, while Jenkins understands and is sympathetic towards Kaepernick, he also understands that there is a bigger picture to consider in this situation.
“He [Kaepernick] knew there could be consequences. It’s not right what’s happening, but this is bigger than one person. We’re trying to help communities across this country,” Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman said in The Undefeated.
“I just haven’t been satisfied with the structure of the coalition or with the communication that Malcolm has been having with the NFL on his own, speaking on behalf of the protesting players when he doesn’t protest,” Reid said.
“We’ve communicated these concerns to him numerous times, have had numerous phone calls about it. Our concerns haven’t been reflected in how the organization has been run. I feel like l needed to make a departure from it.”
With Reid’s final denunciation of Jenkins as a “sellout” and neocolonialist last Sunday, it can be easy to forget all that Jenkins has said and done on behalf of the movement, all that he has risked.
In fact, when asked about some of the backlash he has received since his protesting, he revealed that he and his family have not only received threats but he also has lost out on opportunities to work with brands.
Jenkins is also fully aware that Kaepernick was not treated fairly by the NFL after he continued to kneel while with the 49ers:
“What Colin has had to go through is just not right,” he said in an interview in The Atlantic. “Whether he can prove it or not, everyone understands that his stance is the reason he doesn’t have a job. That said, this movement has to continue. We have to pick up the baton and run.”
Clearly, Jenkins is far from a “sellout.” In fact, he seems to understand the situation from both sides and wants to “create a safer environment for getting involved” in the movement.
When asked: “What would you tell a Cowboys player who says, ‘I want to get involved but I’m worried about my job?’” he responded:
“It doesn’t have to be controversial. You can get involved with a social media campaign; you can get involved with signing your name to an op-ed, or writing a letter, or sitting down with police. You don’t have to take a knee to be a part of the movement.”
I understand Reid’s anger and frustration. I see how Jenkins might look like a sellout for his decision to accept money from the NFL and his choice to stop demonstrating during the national anthem. However, we have to realize that at the end of the day, this movement is about unity.
We’re all fighting for the same freedoms.
As Louisa Thomas says, “In any activist movement, there’s debate over whether to be confrontational or collaborative.” Think back to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Both fought against systematic oppression in radically different ways. However, it didn’t make either one a sellout.
The other side – the Trump supporters and racists alike – are applauding Reid’s actions; they want the strife…the breakdown of our relationships with each other.
They’re laughing at us, exclaiming, “They’re supposed to be about Black unity and look at them!”
Jenkins might have agreed to stop his demonstration in return for the NFL’s financial commitment towards social justice organizations but that was always his plan. He didn’t sell out as Reid claims; he followed through.
“I wanted to be clear. But there was always an end goal,” Reid admitted in his interview with Thomas.
“I wasn’t demonstrating for the sake of demonstrating. It’s not just the money but the initiative; the NFL has this huge platform, and they’re using it to talk about issues. Now all of the sudden we have everybody’s eyes. With that in place, I felt comfortable moving on from the demonstration to holding the league accountable for all the things they’ve committed to.”
Jenkins understands what a lot of folks don’t and that’s that negotiation is key to getting what you want.
“There’s something to be learned from each philosophy. When we were meeting with the league, we recognized significant opportunity to collaborate, but we understand that there have to be non-negotiables. We are not watering down the message for anything. There is a time to be stubborn, and a time to negotiate. We learn from those who have done that before.”
Of course, as he says, there are some things that are non-negotiable—justice, freedom and equality, for example.
However, that doesn’t mean we can’t take advantage of help offered by the other side.
Like Jenkins says, “Whether the NFL truly wanted to help, or whether they were concerned about the bottom dollar and wanted to move past the negative publicity, they leaned in.”
When it comes to activism and protesting, there will always be disagreements about the right form of action – whether it is better to resist or give in. However, we have to remember that the goal is, and has always been, to come together despite our differences in thought.
The other side wants to see us broken.“Pit race against race, religion against religion, prejudice against prejudice. Divide and conquer!” But Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “We must not let that happen here.”