Malcolm Jenkins knows he spoils Sunday afternoons for some by speaking out on social issues. But to remain silent would ruin every day for the Philadelphia Eagles safety.
Jenkins has a lot to say about politics. Too much, if your idea of a professional athlete is someone who shows up for a few hours each week then shuts up when the game ends. If that is you, Jenkins wants you to know he gets it.
“A gentleman wrote me a letter — he wasn’t coming from a combative position — and in it said, ‘I work really hard every day at a manual labor job and I come home and sports is the one thing that gives me some time off, some peace. The last thing I want is for that to get polluted with politics,’ ” Jenkins said. “I understand that and I respect that, but at the end of the day, like anybody, you have to decide what is important to you.”
Football is important to Jenkins, but not enough to stop the former Ohio State defensive back from sharing his opinion on matters of more importance. So the 29-year-old speaks out against social injustice. And if he ruins your TV viewing, well, too bad.
“I’m sorry I have to mess up your Sunday, but there are some things more important than this game,” Jenkins said last week during an Ohio State Sports and Society Initiative panel discussion at The Blackwell. Jenkins was joined onstage by fellow activists Tommie Smith and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.
“When I see things like unarmed black men being shot, or millions of people we have locked up for nonviolent offenses, or systematic oppression that has been going on for so long, I can see myself in it,” Jenkins told the audience. “I’m only a couple of bad decisions away from being in those same positions.”
The Sports and Society Initiative does not shy from controversial topics. All three panelists have taken heat for choosing to protest during the playing of the national anthem. Smith raised a gloved fist on the medal stand during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City; Abdul-Rauf refused to stand for the "Star-Spangled Banner" before two games of the 1995-96 NBA season; and Jenkins raised a fist during the anthem last season.
“I finally got fed up the last couple of years with more shootings of unarmed black men,” he said. “Last July, when (Alton) Sterling and (Philando) Castile got shot by police, I decided it’s not enough for me to do this behind a hashtag or Twitter handle, that I need to actually do something to create some kind of change.”
Right about now, some of you are rolling your eyes, thinking, “What is it with athletes and actors? We don’t care what you think about politics.”
“I’m not just an athlete, as much as you want me to just be one,” Jenkins said.
He also is not just a protester. Jenkins does more than raise a fist. He set out to better understand the relationship between police and urban blacks by getting with both sides, riding with police through Philadelphia neighborhoods and meeting with Philly’s community leaders.
Already serving the communities where he played — in February, Jenkins won the NFLPA’s Byron “Whizzer” White Award for his community outreach programs in Philadelphia, New Orleans and Columbus — Jenkins has taken the extra step of meeting with congressmen in Washington to learn more about the criminal justice system.
“I’ve come to realize how much influence I could actually have, if done the right way,” he said. “So I am encouraged. I feel the only time you lose hope is when you can’t do anything about what is going on.”
Jenkins can. And will.