If there is one thing that social justice movements have proved, it is that there are multiple ways to successfully effectuate change. The Civil Rights Movement is certainly proof of this. Everyone contributed something that was instrumental to the betterment of the movement. Multiple groups and individuals emerged to push the movement forward each in their own unique way. The same can be said of the contributions that North Carolina Panthers’ (Panthers) safety Eric Reid and Philadelphia Eagles’ (Eagles) safety Malcolm Jenkins have made to the movement started by Colin Kaepernick in 2016. While they differ in approach, each has made invaluable contributions.
However, on Sunday their contributions were overshadowed. The attention was turned away from their contributions and was diverted to the escalating rift between Reid and Jenkins. Immediately following the pre-game coin toss, Reid approached Jenkins, and the two had an unpleasant exchange.
This rift is an unfortunate distraction from the greater purpose of the movement. In the midst of this feud, people may lose sight of the issues that Kaepernick sacrificed his career to bring light to. Kaepernick started the movement to shed light on the injustices of minority communities and to offer solutions to combat police brutality. It is important to make sure that this feud does not overshadow the purpose of the movement.
What Led to the Dispute between Eric Reid and Malcolm Jenkins on Sunday?
It would have been better for their differences to be worked out in private and for the protesting players to present a united front. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The rift between Reid and Jenkins is no secret. It stems from Colin Kaepernick’s protest and the establishment of the Players Coalition. In 2016, Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and lost his job as a result. Eric Reid was the first to join Kaepernick in the protest. Reid appeared to suffer the same fate as Kaepernick until the Panthers signed him in late September.
Other players eventually joined the protest. Among those to join was Malcolm Jenkins, who protested by raising his fist during the national anthem. Jenkins along with Anquan Boldin founded the Players Coalition (Coalition) in 2017 to combat social justice issues and racial inequality.
Initially, Reid was a member of the Coalition, and he and Jenkins stood together in their protest. Unfortunately, their union ended when Reid left the organization. Reid left due to a difference of opinion on what should be the Coalition’s primary focus and who should lead the organization. Reid wanted one of the Coalition’s goals to be getting Kaepernick back into the league. However, other members did not think Kaepernick’s employment should be a primary goal. With Jenkins at the helm, the Coalition struck a deal with the NFL without ever putting the Kaepernick issue on the table. After making the deal, Jenkins stated that he would no longer protest. After that, Reid left the Coalition. On Sunday after the game, Reid called Jenkins a “sell-out” and accused him of “co-opting” the movement.
The Feud Cannot Takeaway From the Movement
The public division amongst the protesting players puts the purpose of the movement at risk of getting lost. It is easy for dissenters of the movement to focus on the spectacle and use it to discredit the movement. The optics of the spectacle affirms what many dissenters think, which is that the movement is disorganized and fueled by protestors who cannot even agree amongst themselves. While this is not true, this is exactly the type of ammunition that opponents of the movement will use to discredit it.
Furthermore, the optics on Sunday affirms the contentions that NFL games are not the time or place for protesting because it distracts from the game. After Reid and Jenkins’ exchange, it is hard to argue that the protest does not distract from the game. Therefore, the feud between Reid and Jenkins could “co-opt” the movement.
What Reid and Jenkins Could do Differently
To keep that from happening, the protesting players need to demonstrate unity. They need to remind the public of the issues that they are fighting for. Although Reid and Jenkins have different approaches, they are both working for the betterment of minority communities. They both want to see improved police relations in minority communities. Both Reid and Jenkins have taken steps to move the movement forward and effectuate real change. This is what Reid and Jenkins need to keep in the headlines instead of their rift.
Jenkins has already taken a step in that direction. On Wednesday, Jenkins reminded everyone that Kaepernick started the movement and that it cost him his career. He also stated that Kaepernick should have a job in the NFL. While this is a step in the right direction, all protesting players need to make sure their actions do not distract from the greater purpose of the movement.