MINNEAPOLIS — Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins can’t be bought.
Typical of Super Bowl week, an intrepid reporter asked Jenkins about the brands on his body.
He said he has four, representing Omega Psi Phi Fraternity from his college days at Ohio State.
The questioner then wondered aloud how much Nike or Under Armor would have to pay him get a brand of their logo on his body.
Jenkins quickly responded, no check would be big enough.
His brands were an outward sign of the sacrifice, commitment, dedication and love he has for his fraternity and they were not for sale.
So consider that when rumblings were made this season about Jenkins selling out the NFL player’s coalition by allegedly trading his raised fist protest during the national anthem for the league’s planned $90 million over seven years to projects dealing with criminal justice reform, law enforcement/community relations and education.
Jenkins didn’t sell out the coalition.
And he can’t be bought.
It was about him trying to continue to make strides and progress in a fight for social justice and equality that began long before he got involved and long before former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee.
“There was a need for us to protest and make our voices heard,” Jenkins said. “The NFL wanted to listen. We were able to take (Eagles owner) Jeffrey Lurie into the community and show him why we were protesting to give him a better understanding. We did the same with Roger Goodell.
“It’s a process of education, ownership and people in the league office as to why we have been so passionate and show them how they can play a role in changing our country. Everybody recognizes we have a problem in our country when it comes to equality and true justice. It’s up to everybody to play their role and play their part.”
Jenkins has worked with local police. He has worked with city, state and national officials and lawmakers to understand and try to reform the criminal justice system. He has worked with inmates and prison officials and he has long worked in poor and impoverished communities.
Through it all he turned a situation that many teams, including the Dallas Cowboys and owner Jerry Jones, would label a distraction, into a source of pride and inspiration.
Led by Jenkins and backed by Lurie, the Eagles rival the Seattle Seahawks as the “wokest” team in the NFL and are now one win away from their first Super Bowl title in team history.
“When people are doing things for kids or raising money for natural disasters, no one considers that a distraction,” Jenkins said. “It’s only when you are talking about racism or police brutality. Those things are uncomfortable so people label them as a distraction.
“But those are no different than other causes people stand up for. I think what we have been able to do in Philly is special because we have so many guys that love our community. Our owner is someone that embraces that. We are encouraged to get out and be part of a community that gives so much. But what we have done can be replicated in any NFL city out there.”
Having an understanding and supportive owner helps. Lurie never wavered in his support of Jenkins despite push back from owners such as Jones against the anthem protests and backlash from President Donald Trump, who called for the players to be fired.
“It doesn’t waver,” Lurie said. “You can be baited into things. I’m not interested. These are the issues. The people that suffer, and are part of what vulnerable people have in America, they need to be supported. We define ourselves by our compassion for those who are less fortunate and vulnerable. That’s what our players, and that’s what I feel I want to support always.”
Again, it was easy for Lurie to get behind Jenkins, the Eagles’ Walter Payton Man of the Year award nominee, because he has always been involved and active. It didn’t just start with the protests before the 2016 season. And it won’t end because he is no longer raising his fists.
“What a wonderful leader and tremendous football player,” Lurie said of Jenkins. “He has done a lot of hard work in the community ever since he got here. It’s the quiet work that he does that is so impressive. I do support a lot of the issues that the players have brought up. They resonate with a lot of players and they should because they are from communities that are hit the hardest. As owner of a team in a big city like Philadelphia, I would do anything to help them and us make a difference with those issues. I think it’s an important part of our culture.”
Jenkins didn’t get here without controversy and pushback from within and outside the player’s coalition.
He long understood criticism came with the territory, but his head remains unbowed.
“It’s part of it,” Jenkins said. “It’s a problem that existed long before I came on this earth. It’s not always going to be pretty. It’s not always going to be something that everybody agrees with it and it’s going to come with some backlash and resistance. I always keep my mind on the goal and the people I’m trying to impact.”
Some members of the coalition believe there should have been no deal with the NFL until Kaepernick was back in the league.
Jenkins, who calls Kaepernick an inspiration and lauds him for initially standing on the island alone, believes they are separate issues.
“He should have a job in this league,” Jenkins said. “I don’t think we should take the stance that we can’t work for progress without him in the league. The reason he took the knee was to raise awareness for injustice in the community. We can work toward fixing that. I think he would say his sacrifice was worth it. He is good enough to play in this league and he should have a job.”
His beliefs are his and they can’t be bought.