In a show of unity and support Chris Long of the Philadelphia Eagles put his arm around teammate Malcolm Jenkins Thursday night as the national anthem played in Philadelphia prior to the Eagles’ preseason game with the Buffalo Bills. Jenkins was raising his fist defiantly, something he had been doing since the second game of the 2016 season. Long is the first white player to join the protest, which has been championed by several of the league’s African-American players over the past year, most notably by Colin Kaepernick, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers.
Long has been a critic of President Donald Trump for sometime now and was one of a handful of New England Patriots who passed on the opportunity to visit the White House this past April. The defensive end also considers Charlottesville, Virginia, the site of protests and violence this past weekend, his hometown, having attended college at the University of Virginia. In the wake of the tragic events that took place there, Long has been vocal of the president’s response.
The decision to join his teammate was made by Long prior the game, saying afterwards that “I just told Malcolm, ‘I’m here for you.'”
Long’s decision to join Jenkins came hours after Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks, who sat during the anthem at a Seahawks’ preseason game, said on ESPN that for real change to come, for the protest to matter, a white player would have to get involved.
“It would take a white player to really get things changed,” Bennett said Wednesday on ESPN’s SC6, “because when somebody from the other side understands and they step up and they speak up about it … it would change the whole conversation. Because when you bring somebody who doesn’t have to be a part of [the] conversation making himself vulnerable in front of it, I think when that happens, things will really take a jump.”
After the game, as Long spoke with reporters, he seemed to echo Bennet’s earlier comments, saying “I think it’s a good time for people that look like me to be here for people that are fighting equality.” However, Long made it clear that any form of protest he took place in would not include kneeling during the anthem.
“I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘You need white athletes to get involved in the anthem protest.’ I’ve said before that I’ll never kneel for an anthem because the flag means something different to everybody in this country, but I support my peers. And if you don’t see why you need allies for people that are fighting for equality right now, I don’t think you’ll ever see it. My thing is Malcolm’s a leader and I’m here to show support as a white athlete.”
Jenkins made the choice to begin protest the anthem after Kaepernick started getting attention drawn to his form of protest, which involved kneeling during the anthem. Kaepernick is currently a free agent and despite having drawn some interest from a few teams, most recently the Baltimore Ravens, he has yet to be signed. Jenkins elected to raise his fist during the anthem and over the course of last season was joined by some of his teammates. He has already said he intends on continuing to do so throughout the upcoming season.
Some of Jenkins’ white teammates allegedly considering joining the protests in 2016 but plans never panned out. After the game Jenkins talked about Long’s support, knowing how impactful it was. The move had apparently been in the works since last year, as Long was one of the players who had talked about joining Jenkins’ protests.
The Eagles next preseason game is Thursday August 24 in Philadelphia.