The longstanding feud between current and former members of the Players Coalition continues to boil over following an on-field confrontation between Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid and Eagles pro bowler Malcolm Jenkins last week.
After a near altercation where Reid went face to face with the coalition’s co-founder during the coin toss, Reid, who left the group last year, used sharp words to describe Jenkins—labeling him a “sell out” and a “neo-colonialist.”
Reid expanded on those remarks this week by giving his account of what transpired between the league and the Players Coalition prior to his departure. He says several owners expressed a need to end the anthem protests in closed-door meetings, even quoting Bills owner Terry Pegula as saying the NFL needed “to put a band-aid on this, and we need a black figurehead to do it.”
After Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie allegedly told the players the NFL’s resources could be of great use to their cause, Reid says Texans Owner Bob McNair reiterated that the group needed to “tell your comrades to stop with this protesting business.”
Reid also accuses Jenkins of asking him if he would stop kneeling before games if the NFL donated money to the Players Coalition. Reid says Jenkins posed the question after the group agreed that its right to protest was not up for negotiation. He also noted that the group’s $90 million partnership with the NFL to address social injustice was announced just days after the league introduced its ill-fated policy to end demonstrations by requiring players to stand during the anthem.
Since last week’s near-altercation, Jenkins has mostly taken the high road. In an uninspired response last week, Jenkins made a vague statement about the group’s mission to help people, while also keeping a focus on getting former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick back in the league. It was a weak response from a man whose exemplified such great strength in the community.
For more background, Reid was among a group of players who left the Coalition after feeling the collective took actions to betray Kaepernick’s vision. Reid was Kaepernick’s teammate in 2016 and the first player to kneel alongside the QB. In the past, he’s argued the group’s multi-million deal with the NFL should have included more league concessions and a promise to sign Kaepernick.
Reid now says the deal that was being negotiated while he was still a member of the coalition required NFL players to invest 90 percent of the partnership’s funds in the first year. He admits he’s unsure what conditions were in the final deal.
To be clear, Reid’s name-calling and confrontational actions last week come with downsides. His inflammatory words have taken some of the attention away from potentially legitimate criticisms against Jenkins. Some opponents like former NFL star Tony Gonzalez have told Reid to “shut his mouth,” and suggested he should have handled his issues with Jenkins behind closed doors. ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith called his words “insulting and disgraceful.” Washington cornerback and Coalition member Josh Norman agreed, calling Reid’s comments a “slap in the face.” He also questioned Reid’s and Kaepernick’s motivation to hash out their issues with the group and suggested Reid had an agenda to ensure Kaepernick was the group’s leader.
Some of the critiques are fair. Personal attacks often do little to get things accomplished. But to Reid, the situation is very personal. Reid and Kaepernick are suing the league—saying it conspired to keep them unsigned. Reid had to wait until Week 4 to be signed by the Panthers.
But if we only choose to focus on the harshness of Reid’s words, we fail in holding the NFL and the Players Coalition accountable. Jenkins decided to make himself the face of a movement for positive change. And I believe his intentions are good. But just like Reid, Kaepernick or any leader of a campaign, Jenkins and the Coalition should not be shielded from criticism.
I’ve documented some of the great deeds Jenkins, Norman and the other members have done to help the community. But why hasn’t the group held the league’s feet to the fire for continuing to blackball Kaepernick? There likely wouldn’t be a Players Coalition without Kaepernick’s bravery to take a knee in the first place. Why did Jenkins allegedly asks coalition members if they were willing to end their demonstrations if the NFL agreed to spend money on select causes? Was he aware that a day after cutting a deal with the league, owners would implement a new anthem policy?
Jenkins said he was opposed to the league’s anthem proposal and that he did not have discussions with the league about it. Why not? A $90 million partnership with the biggest professional sports league in the United States doesn’t get you a seat at the table on the company’s most important issue related to your cause?
Jenkins, who has never kneeled but has raised a fist during the playing of the star-spangled banner, only protested once since the league and the coalition reached an agreement. That instance came during a pre-season game this summer.
It makes the Washington Post’s label for Jenkins as the “new face of the player protests” a shocking assertion. In the same article, Jenkins said he thought the demonstrations “served its purpose” and he wished to move the conversation away from the anthem. Jenkins didn’t write the Washington Post headline, but if Reid’s assertions about Jenkins are true, then, in this case, the sword is way mightier than the pen.
When you enter the arena of public service the way Jenkins has, the stakes are far higher than the final score of a football game. Good intentions are only good for a pat on the back. We do not need a “black figurehead” the way Pegula allegedly put it.
The Global Majority needs real leadership.
And Reid has raised serious questions about Jenkins’ leadership on issues related to people of color. We don’t need Josh Morgan to speak for Jenkins. We don’t need Jenkins’ polite words about Reid and Kaepernick in response to a harsh critique. We need Jenkins to answer for his leadership on these critical issues affecting our community.
And we need it now.