Malcolm Jenkins and Michael Bennett Comment on Players Coalition Fracture

By Sameer Rao Dec 04, 2017

Months of negotiations between National Football League (NFL) executives and social justice activism-minded NFL players in the Players Coalition reached a peak last week when media outlets reported on the league’s alleged $89-to-$100 million commitment to support players’ racial justice advocacy.

Those reports also noted that the path to that donation prompted several Players Coalition members—including one who kneeled beside Colin Kaepernick to protest systemic racism—to leave the table.

San Francisco 49ers safety and early Kaepernick supporter Eric Reid first announced his departure from the coalition in the following statement on November 29:

Reid accused Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins and retired player Anquan Boldin, who lead the Players Coalition, of not acting in players’ best interests during the negotiations. The Undefeated reports that Los Angeles Chargers offensive tackle Russell Okung and Miami Dolphins players Michael Thomas and Kenny Stills also left the coalition for similar reasons. 

Reid told journalists in the 49ers’ locker room that Jenkins kicked Kaepernick out of the coalition. He also suggested that he may develop his own collective: 

Reid elaborated on his decision via an interview with Slate the next day (November 30). He said that Jenkins brokered the pledge with fewer than 1 percent of players’ approval and asked Reid to stop kneeling as a condition of receiving the funding. He also said that he believed the league structured the donation to reallocate funds from NFL initiatives for breast cancer awareness and military service support, rather than make it come out of team owners’ pockets.

“[NFL Commissioner] Roger Goodell is trying to make this as easy for the [team] owners to agree to as possible so that—again, their goal is to end the protests,” Reid told Slate. “He’s trying to make it as easy possible to do that for the [team] owners. He’s going to present them with a proposal saying, ‘Look you really don’t have to do anything. We’re just going to shift this money from this area and just move it here.’”

“We [players] made an agreement that there would be task force that…would have all communications with the NFL,” Reid added. “Malcolm stepped outside of that task force, he had another communication with the NFL, then he [came] back and [said], ‘We are ready to announce the partnership on Thursday.’”

The league reports that the money—the full amount of which remains unconfirmed—would come from a $3 million NFL Foundation grant and other to-be-determined sources, according to memos that NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport tweeted on December 1:

Jenkins rejected the accusations in an open letter yesterday (December 3). “For myself and the Players Coalition, it was never about the money or having our voices bought,” he wrote, per CBS Sports. “To hear people call me or anyone else a sellout is insulting.” 

Jenkins also denied that he went behind players’ backs in a statement to The Undefeated yesterday. “At the end of the day, my focus and my goals have always been about the people and making that change,” he said. “I don’t get into mudslinging, because that doesn’t benefit me, it doesn’t benefit [the critics] and it doesn’t benefit our movement.” He also indirectly referenced Reid and his allies, saying, “We may disagree, but I’m still proud of those guys. They played a huge part in where we’re at right now.” Jenkins did not address Reid’s allegations about Kaepernick’s role in the coalition. 

The memos above do not address NFL executives’ pushback around player protests or mention plans to stop them from kneeling. NFL leaders like commissioner Roger Goodell, who is currently negotiating his contract with the league, and team owners Robert McNair and Jerry Jones received backlash for their criticism of the protests. Jenkins told The Undefeated that he plans to stop raising his fist during pre-game national anthems as a show of good faith to Goodell.

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, who accused two Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department officers of racially-motivated abuse earlier this year, told The Undefeated yesterday that he regrets that Jenkins and Reid’s conflict has unfolded publicly.

“Sometimes when you’re in a situation with a group, you’re going to bump heads,” he said. “We all are passionate. We’ve all got a certain level of commitment to what we’re trying to accomplish. Things happen. But those things should be kept behind closed doors.”

Without taking a position, Bennett added that he understands “both sides” of the dispute. He also said that he plans to talk to Kaepernick. “It’s about the conversations I have with the rest of the guys,” Bennett said. “We have to be able to move on as a collective group. And to be able to talk to each individual leader is important. We’ll see.”