Outspoken safety Malcolm Jenkins restarted his protest movement on Thursday by raising a fist during the national anthem ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles’ preseason opener, answering the question of whether players would continue their social justice protests despite increased pressure from the league to stand down. Jenkins was joined on the Eagles sideline by defensive back De’Vante Bausby, who also raised a fist, and defensive end Chris Long, who draped an arm around Jenkins in a sign of solidarity.
Jenkins has been a leader of the protest movement over the last two years, but called off his own personal protest last year after the Players Coalition, a group he co-founded, agreed to a partnership with the NFL in which the league would contribute $89 million over seven years to projects promoting social justice causes, including criminal justice reform, law enforcement’s relationship with local communities, and education. Last year, former San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid publicly broke with Jenkins over that deal, saying he was asked to stop protesting as a condition of the NFL distributing that money.
Jenkins, for his part, publicly criticized Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones last month for implementing a team policy that required players to stand during the anthem. During pregame warmups Thursday night, Eagles players wore shirts that addressed the issues championed by the Players Coalition. Jenkins wore one himself and posted a statement before kickoff Thursday:
Elsewhere around the league, Miami Dolphins Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson kneeled during the anthem and teammate Robert Quinn raised his fist. The NFL has gone to great lengths to try to put a stop to players kneeling during the anthem, going so far as to update league rules in May to explicitly ban kneeling or sitting during the anthem. “This season, all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem,” a statement from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell read after the policy change. “Personnel who choose not to stand for the Anthem may stay in the locker room until after the Anthem has been performed.” Under pressure from players, the league announced that the policy, which would have fined teams for noncompliance, would not be imposed until the players association’s grievance on the new rule was resolved.
An ESPN reporter tweeted that four Jacksonville Jaguars appeared to take the NFL up on its suggestion that players protest by skipping the anthem rather than kneeling during it. Telvin Smith, Jalen Ramsey, Leonard Fournette, and T.J. Yeldon all waited in the tunnel until shortly after the anthem finished, though there has been no official confirmation that they intended their actions to be a form of protest.
Update, Aug. 10, 8:50 a.m.: In a game played later on Thursday, three members of the Seattle Seahawks—defensive linemen Branden Jackson and Quinton Jefferson and offensive lineman Duane Brown—ran off the field before the anthem started playing.
Colin Kaepernick, who started the protest movement in the 2016 preseason and has since been exiled from the league, sent a message on Thursday supporting the two Dolphins players who kneeled.
Reid, Kaepernick’s former 49ers teammate who is also out of the NFL and has a pending collusion grievance against the league, tweeted an identical message from his account.
In a statement on Thursday night, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said, “There has been no change in the NFL’s policy regarding the national anthem. The anthem will continue to be played before every game, and all player and non-player personnel on the field at that time are expected to stand during the presentation of the flag and performance of the anthem. Personnel who do not wish to do so can choose to remain in the locker room. We remain committed to working with the players to identify solutions and to continue making progress on important social issues affecting our communities.”
On Friday morning, President Donald Trump—apparently having ignored Jenkins’ admonition to “ponder that more than 60% of the prison population are people of color”—tweeted that players “wanted to show their ‘outrage’ at something that most of them are unable to define.” His advice: “Be happy, be cool!” Also: “Stand proudly for your National Anthem or be Suspended Without Pay!”