PHILADELPHIA — Organizing a coalition of players who are lobbying the NFL to aid them in social justice reform and hear their personal experiences about race in America has not been easy. In a quiet moment on Sunday after the Eagles defeated the 49ers 33-10, Philadelphia safety Malcolm Jenkins did his best to explain the weight of those expectations.
“The biggest thing is trying to make sure guys feel like they’re a part of it; people’s voices are being heard,” Jenkins told The MMQB. “There’s a lot of moving parts obviously, but I think players have done a good job of communicating. I think we’ve done a good job keeping our messaging the same, and that’s been over the course of a year and a half.”
Jenkins, who again raised his fist during the anthem, was speaking hours after the posting of a Slate story suggesting that he was keeping former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick out of a proposed meeting with ownership and league officials that was supposed to take place here on Monday. Jenkins said the league “declined or postponed” the Monday meeting and would not comment to reporters specifically on the allegations in the Slate story. The piece features emails from Kaepernick’s legal team asking Jenkins to confirm that Kaepernick was formally invited to the event.
The NFL, when reached for comment, said the meeting wasn’t going to work out logistically, but that the league is looking forward to another opportunity to speak with players.
Asked if the goal is to ultimately get the player who started these protests last year into a meeting with team owners and the commissioner, Jenkins told me: “Yeah, I mean, that’s never been off the agenda.”
Jenkins and another key figure in the coalition, 49ers safety Eric Reid, maintained a unified front on Sunday, though their comments reflected just how complex the situation has become. Jenkins feels that the players are more organized than ever before, texting on off days, working in the community and staying on message. Reid simply wants that progress to include Kaepernick.
“I think there’s some frustration on Colin’s end because he wasn’t invited to the meeting,” Reid told me. “I think it’s just a lack of communication, and I think that there’s people in the NFL who don’t want him there. I don’t think there are any players who don’t want him there—I think it’s just the NFL that doesn’t want him there.”
Reid, who added that he thought Jenkins was doing an “amazing job,” said the lines of communication, both player-to-player and player-to-league, need to get better.
“The way this has been established, Malcolm has been the point of contact with the NFL as it relates to these meetings,” Reid said. “I don’t know how that came to be, but that’s what it is so far. I’ve been trying to get in touch with people from the NFL, can’t do it. Colin’s been trying to get in touch with people from the NFL, can’t do it. For some reason they only want to talk to Malcolm. That’s not a problem, but Colin and I started this protest, and we feel we should be the point or, if not, more heavily involved in the communication.”
Kaepernick, who first spoke publicly about sitting for the national anthem in August 2016, has been silent since his exit from the NFL in March.
“He started this protest, so all of us are passionate about what we’re doing but Colin has to have a voice in this,” said Reid, who knelt during the anthem on Sunday, as he has done since last season. “I don’t think there’s anybody who doesn’t want him to be there.”
In front of assembled reporters Sunday, Reid didn’t flinch at a question about potential discord among the players. He pointed a finger back at the NFL and sounded more confident than ever that Kaepernick would eventually be heard.
“I think, to keep it frank, the NFL wants the protests to end. It’s bad for their business. But I think it’s ridiculous that they don’t want Colin being there, being as he’s the first one to start protesting, so if we have to force him into that room that’s what we’ll do. But it has to be under the right circumstances,” Reid said. “We have to set a meeting, and the right people have to be here. I don’t think he’s going to fly to Philadelphia if no one is going to be at the meeting.”
Reid doubled down on that comment as he was walking toward the bus.
“I don’t know if they’re intimidated by Colin or if they just feel like this would be easier to get done if Colin wasn’t present,” Reid told The MMQB. “But like I said, we’re going to make sure Colin is there. The next official meeting we have, we’re going to make sure Colin is in the room.”
Both Reid and Jenkins left Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday with the best of intentions. Jenkins said he was hoping to speak with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell Sunday night—he says he has a line of communication directly to the commissioner—and that another sit-down would be coming soon. Both were informed by reporters that, while they were getting changed and conducting post-game interviews, a majority of the Houston Texans knelt before Sunday’s game against the Seahawks in protest of recent comments made by owner Bob McNair.
In both of their minds, it was tangible progress.
“Well, hopefully they continue that,” Jenkins said. “Hopefully that pushes the pace a little bit.”
“That’s awesome,” Reid said. “That is awesome.”
• SUBSCRIBE TO THE MMQB NEWSLETTER. Get “The Morning Huddle” delivered to your inbox first thing each weekday, by going here and checking The MMQB newsletter box. Start your day with the best of the NFL, from The MMQB.
• Question or comment? Story idea? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.