Malcolm Jenkins: I'm not a sellout; NFL protests were 'never about the money'

As the NFL Players Coalition celebrates an $89 million partnership with the NFL but endures public backlash from some of its former members, its leader wants you to know that his efforts to shed light on the issues raised by hundreds of protesting players were never about getting the league's money.

In an open letter issued to CBSSports.com and other media, Philadelphia Eagles safety and unofficial Players Coalition spokesman Malcolm Jenkins has detailed the roots of his discussions with the NFL, saying that it's "insulting" to hear others call him a "sellout."

The San Francisco 49ers' Eric Reid is among several notable players who have openly criticized Jenkins' actions on behalf of the Coalition, a group of about 40 players that now identifies as a nonprofit, suggesting that Jenkins did not properly communicate with most of those players when agreeing to the NFL's reported seven-year, $89 million donation plan -- a deal that has the league set to contribute more money to charities related to recent national anthem demonstrations than even prominent NFL campaigns like Salute to Service.

But Jenkins, whose community meetings with commissioner Roger Goodell and local law enforcement coincided with his own anthem demonstrations, says he's only ever been motivated by the very reasons he protested -- to promote racial equality and reform in the education, criminal justice and law enforcement systems. Once forced to defend his patriotism as a result of his peaceful protests during pregame anthems, Jenkins is now tasked with convincing his fellow players that he didn't "sell out" as the Coalition's leader.

His open letter regarding the situation reads as follows:

It has been my goal for the past two years to raise awareness about some important social injustices that plague our country. The PEOPLE who have been unjustly disenfranchised by our criminal justice system and the PEOPLE who daily fight for them always have, and always will be, the inspiration and focus of my efforts. I'm proud of what my peers and I have been able to accomplish by using the platform we have these last two years. I'm proud to be part of a group of men who are standing up because we can help others. I'm proud of the men who may now disagree with me and our direction, but still played a significant role in getting results through our actions.

We will not be deterred from fighting for justice. There are many players across the league who have joined these efforts toward new legislation, reestablishing trust with our police and helping to create educational and economic opportunities in our communities. I welcome anyone who wants to join us.

The real work began in the summer of 2016, after many of us saw what transpired around Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and others. We realized that we needed to get involved for those men and the many others before them and those who would come later. A lot of work began to educate ourselves on the inner workings of the criminal justice system. When the protests began that fall, it sparked conversation and we all realized our unique platform to raise awareness and get people talking about the issues. It grew from there – guys saw that they had an opportunity to make a difference, and Anquan Boldin rallied a group of us to go to Capitol Hill in November 2016. It kept growing – with a large group of NFL players and others joining the effort.

The stories we have heard and the people we have met these last couple of years keep us going. The children growing up in our cities who don't get the educations they need or deserve, the inherent discrimination we have seen in our criminal justice system that locks up more black bodies in 2017 than were forced into slavery in the pre-Civil War era, the people who believe their lives don't matter when they watch time and again their friends, family and neighbors being shot in the street. Did you know that you can be arrested and held in jail, sometimes for months, without a conviction? Did you know children are being given life without parole for crimes that don't fit the punishment?

Many of us – Doug Baldwin, Chris Long, Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin, Rodney McLeod and others – have spent time in cities and towns talking with these people about these issues and pushing these legislators to right these wrongs. What we've learned is that this is not a Democrat or a Republican issue. It's an American issue – and an American problem. That is why we are moving forward with our efforts in the Coalition, to drive forward initiatives, campaigns and advocacy efforts to force legislators to make this a priority.

I wholeheartedly support and respect those who want to continue to protest. My hope and my focus now will be on getting the media coverage and attention on the tragedies we need to fix – those in our juvenile justice system, unjust bail policies, mass incarceration of young black men in this country and lack of employment opportunities in low-income communities – not whether I'm raising a fist before taking the field.

I want to thank the organizations who have helped the Players Coalition to date – the Fair Punishment Project, the ACLU, Center for American Progress, Community Legal Services, the Page 2 of 2 12/3/2017 Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, our city police departments and the countless grass roots organizations and public defenders we've had the opportunity to get to know.

I also appreciate the fans who have supported our fight for equality and justice. I am especially appreciative for people like Stan Van Gundy who lent his support and helped pave the way to expand this movement to include the NBA.

What the NFL has done is a good first step – it's not going to solve the massive problems we have in our cities and states across this country, but it's a start. And, more importantly, I'm glad we were able to get them to acknowledge their responsibility and role in trying to help solve these problems and injustices. They are making a major commitment, more than they have done for any other charitable initiative, to provide us with the marketing platform to educate millions of fans about social justice, racial inequality and the work players are doing in criminal justice reform, police accountability/transparency and education/economic advancement.

For myself and the Players Coalition, it was never about the money or having our voices bought. To hear people call me or anyone else a sell-out is insulting. It has always been, and will always be, about lifting the voices of the people and the work of those that fight for them. God Bless.

Two of Jenkins' Eagles teammates, Torrey Smith and Rodney McLeod, have since echoed the safety's words, posting on Twitter Sunday that Jenkins and others "have been doing things for black communities long before" former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during anthems to protest police brutality in 2016.

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