Perhaps the proudest moments in Philadelphia history have been attached to the victory of liberty and freedom over control and repression. We are, by nature, a rebellious and free thinking lot. This is what makes us special, this is what makes us great. Certain athletes in Philadelphia history have exemplified the values we hold most dear. I would posit that Malcolm Jenkins is such a player.
Bear with me for a moment, I promise to stick to sports…
noun: anthem; plural noun: anthems
- a rousing or uplifting song identified with a particular group, body, or cause.
I’m going to start with a simple question and I want you to take a moment to really consider this.
Are we free, or are we not free?
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave
The land of the free… the home of the brave.
This song is, at its core, a celebration of symbols of freedom and bravery, most notably the flag. The notion of loyalty and liberty are inherently at odds. And in my opinion, this pull of opposing positive forces is what makes us great. The balance of pride in our shared identity with the realities of what that identity actually means is what makes our society fragile and exemplary.
We, collectively, celebrate free thought and diversity. Think about that… collectively celebrate diversity. That is a hard trick to pull off, and for 230+ years, we have slowly made progress towards matching the reality of our society to that ideal. It was only 155 years ago that America officially declared that slavery was anti-American. The struggle that ensued nearly tore the country apart at the seams.
It wasn’t until 1948 when segregation of our armed forces was ended. It wasn’t until 1964 when the civil rights act brought us into the modern era of American domestic civil rights. And in many ways, we have taken our foot off the pedal when it comes to the long march to true freedom and equality.
In 2008, America mostly convinced itself that we were in a post-racist world and that all of our demons had been exorcized. The blowback of 2010 and even more-so 2016 have shown us that while history progresses inevitably, it does not always progress in a linear fashion.
Freedom, liberty, and equality have never been granted; they have always been fought for and won. That freedom comes in many ways, shapes, and forms. Our Constitution starts out, “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” (emphasis added) Amendments were then added to help further ensure these liberties. Let’s just look at the first one.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last year, you are aware of the controversy surrounding a contingent of NFL players choosing to stand up (or in some cases, kneel down) in an attempt to “petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
After a generally quiet offseason, this issue came back to the public eye this week with a joint statement from the NFL and the NFL Players Association.
The NFL and NFLPA, through recent discussions, have been working on a resolution to the anthem issue. In order to allow this constructive dialogue to continue, we have come to a standstill agreement on the NFLPA’s grievance and on the NFL’s anthem policy. No new rules relating to the anthem will be issued or enforced for the next several weeks while these confidential discussions are ongoing.
The NFL and NFLPA reflect the great values of America, which are repeatedly demonstrated by the many players doing extraordinary work in communities across our country to promote equality, fairness and justice.
Our shared focus will remain on finding a solution to the anthem issue through mutual, good faith commitments, outside of litigation.
The Miami Dolphins, this week, classified National Anthem protests as “conduct detrimental to the team,” which is a violation punishable by suspension and fines. You can read the release here.
This controversy has risen to the forefront of national consciousness for all of the wrong reasons, in my opinion. Instead of the league, and by extension America itself, asking, “What are these players protesting,” we have descended into a false argument over loyalty, patriotism and symbolism.
Redress of Grievances
Let’s pause again and ask ourselves if we really understand the grievances being petitioned. A common argument is that these men and women are making millions of dollars as entertainers and should represent the values of our great country. But what values are we referring to? I agree, I want my representatives on the national stage to represent me proudly. We want our team to win for regional pride. We want our players to refrain from illegal and immoral behavior and to bring honor and pride to our community.
So let’s ask ourselves. What values did our Philadelphia Eagles exhibit to make us proud? Here are a few possibilities:
These values, among others, are what truly make us proud of our Super Bowl champions.
Now let’s apply those values to Malcolm Jenkins:
- Unselfishness – Jenkins was making a statement for the voiceless, using his national stage to shed light on a social issue that affects many others aside from himself.
- Creativity – Malcolm and his teammates shifted the expression just enough to not let the symbolism of kneeling to distract from the cause itself.
- Commitment – Knowing the potential career and financial impacts, the 30 year old safety decided to pick up the baton for others who had come before him, to make sure that the message couldn’t be dismissed as a single disgruntled player.
- Fortitude – Malcolm never lost the message; he spoke calmly and carefully represented the issue.
- Bravery – As the team’s national profile and pressure increased, he stood up and never wavered.
— Malcolm Jenkins (@MalcolmJenkins) June 5, 2018
We were all fortunate enough to have been born at exactly this point in the earth’s history and in this region of the world where our right to go online and explore and express our feelings on a multitude of topics is protected.
This is not only a right, but a responsibility. If we do not exercise these rights, then we risk erosion of the very things that make us great. So when a public figure risks their reputation, their income, and their future to shed light on a situation, they very VERY least we can do is learn more about the topic.
Let’s celebrate our freedoms, let’s fight for our rights, and let’s protect our champions.