The reactions to the NFL's Wednesday announcement of awere swift and of both , with many suggesting the league simply put fuel on a fire that was already burning out on its own.
Now, one of the league's most prominent social activists, Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, has echoed critics of the new rules, which require that players either stand for the anthem prior to games or completely stay off the field during that time.
In a statement shared by NBC Sports Philadelphia's Reuben Frank, the Pro Bowler and defending Super Bowl champion said "everyone loses when voices get stifled" -- something he believes will happen with the roll-out of the new policy:
What NFL owners did today was thwart the players' constitutional rights to express themselves and use our platform to draw attention to social injustices like racial inequality in our country. Everyone loses when voices get stifled.
While I disagree with this decision, I will not let it silence me or stop me from fighting. The national conversation around race in America that NFL players forced over the past two years will persist as we continue to use our voices, our time and our money to create a more fair and just criminal justice system, end police brutality and foster better educational opportunities for communities of color and those struggling in this country.
For me, this has never been about taking a knee, raising a fist or anyone's patriotism but doing what we can to affect real change for real people.
Technically, as a business, the NFL reserves the right to dictate what its players can and cannot do, so Jenkins suggesting the league is removing players' First Amendment rights isn't entirely correct. But as many who reacted to Wednesday's policy changes pointed out, it was also the NFL that started requiring players to be on the field for the anthem in 2009, and there's no lack of evidence that persistent political pressure from President Trump may have influenced the league's new restrictions, which were not approved with the consent of the NFL Players Association.
What's really been echoed by countless others, including other NFL players who both protested and merely supported teammates' right to do so, are Jenkins' final words -- "this has never been about taking a knee, raising a fist or anyone's patriotism" despite repeated claims by Trump and others that players were willfully protesting the flag, the anthem and America. Instead, as Jenkins noted, many players' goal of protesting, which he himself, has always been to promote social change.
It remains to be seen whether Jenkins or any of his teammates, who once linked arms in rebuke of Trump's September 2017 suggestion that NFL owners should release "son of a (explicit)" players who use the anthem as a platform to promote equality, plan to stay off the field or demonstrate during the anthem in 2018.
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