PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins raised a fist during the playing of the national anthem prior to Thursday night's preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, resuming his protest against social injustice.
Defensive end Michael Bennett appeared on the field during the playing of the anthem and walked behind his teammates, most of whom were lined up along the sideline.
"All that's transpired over the [off]season has just changed the context of where we are right now," Jenkins said after the 31-14 loss. "I was very, very encouraged at the end of last year with the direction that I thought the players were going with the league. And that obviously took a different turn. And so I just think as we wait for the league to make its decision on what they're going to do from a ruling standpoint, I think it's important that we utilize the platform as we can."
Jenkins stopped his protest against social injustice after the Players Coalition, which he co-founded, joined in a partnership with the league in November that calls for the NFL to contribute $89 million over seven years to projects dealing with criminal justice reform, relations between law enforcement and local communities, and education.
But the owners approved a new policy in May that requires players to stand if they are on the field during the anthem. The league decided to put a temporary hold on the implementation of that policy while it works with the NFL Players Association toward a resolution.
Before the game, Jenkins shared some thoughts on social injustice via Twitter.
Before we enjoy this game lets take some time to ponder that more than 60% of the prison population are people of color. The NFL is made up of 70% African Americans. What you witness on the field does not represent the reality of everyday— Malcolm Jenkins (@MalcolmJenkins) August 9, 2018
America. We are the anomalies... pic.twitter.com/gCeNKuTl1d
Jenkins said he did not commit to demonstrating until right before Thursday's game, and acknowledged the decision whether to protest is one "I wrestle with all the time."
"I think at any point in time when you try to represent the voices of people that aren't heard and you're getting support and people are looking up to you, you want to make sure that you're a good steward of that, that support and those people who are behind you," he said. "So you always try to make sure that whatever you're doing has the best interest at heart and that's the things that I think I wrestle with all the time.
"Am I doing the right thing? Am I going the right direction? And for me I know there are a ton of people who look to us for motivation, for inspiration, and you can see that. They have people that are fighting for them, advocating for them, that gives those people who do this work day to day, that ugly grind, fighting against systems and oppression, they draw motivation and inspiration from seeing us on this stage."
In late July, Jenkins took issue with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who stated that his team policy requires his players to stand on the field for the national anthem no matter what rule the league ultimately settles on. Jenkins called Jones a "bully" for trying to take away his players' right to have a voice, and encouraged other owners who are supportive of the players to speak up, noting their silence creates the perception that Jones is "the voice of NFL ownership."
Asked what he'd like to see in order to get back to a better place with the league, Jenkins said he wants the anthem policy eliminated altogether.
"I understand that it's a business and you want to protect your bottom line and all of that, but at the end of the day, I think the smartest thing right now is to not have a rule and provide a better option. I think part of the problem is that when you continue the rhetoric that this is controversial or this is somehow a negative thing, people treat it as such," he said. "But we've seen in other leagues when they've decided to amplify the voices of their players to also emphasize the importance of the issues that we're raising, and change the narrative away from the anthem, that not only is it more acceptable, the fan base gets educated on what we're talking about, and we can actually make some movement."