PHILADELPHIA -- Chris Long has been active in the community and vocal about social issues for years. But the veteran defensive end says he never got the type of attention he has since he showed support for Philadelphia Eagles teammate Malcolm Jenkins' ongoing demonstration during the national anthem at last week's preseason game.
"No one gave a s---, frankly, until I put my hand around Malcolm," Long told me in the Eagles locker room Tuesday. "That just goes to show you the power of symbolic protests. All of a sudden, everyone cares about my protest, but they never cared about my actions -- which kind of proves, well, why do you need (to protest during the anthem)? If guys were just like, 'Hey, I'm over here! I want to talk about social issues,' the reporters would be like, 'We don't care.'"
Long, who is white, put his left hand on the shoulder of Jenkins, who is black, as Jenkins raised his right fist Thursday night -- a gesture Jenkins began making last season, shortly after then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick ignited a controversial movement by sitting, then kneeling during the anthem in response to police brutality and other issues of social injustice.
Other white players have made similar gestures since. On Friday, Seattle Seahawks offensive lineman Justin Brittput a hand on the shoulder of teammate Michael Bennett, who has been sitting during the anthem. On Monday, a dozen Cleveland Browns players -- including tight end Seth DeValve -- kneeled and prayed during the anthem while others, including punter Britton Colquitt, stood and placed hands on them.
"Guys love each other, man," Long said. "We're lucky that we get to interact with each other. And we just know the reality is there's some pockets of America where you might go to work every day, you wake up every day and only see people that look like you. You never get a chance to interact or really hear people out."
Long has said the recent events in Charlottesville, Va., where he attended high school and college at the University of Virginia, contributed to his decision to take a more visible stance. He's careful to note the decision on making such a gesture is up to each player individually.
As for Kaepernick's ongoing unemployment, Long's feelings are unambiguous. ("Colin should have a job," Long said. "Point blank.") But the impact of Kaepernick's actions continue to be felt, with more players participating in some form of national anthem demonstration already this preseason than all of last season combined.
"Although I'd never take a knee, we're having these conversations," he said. "We've been having them for a year. And I don't think they'd be happening without what Colin did. Now, does it mean that I agree with everything Colin does? No. But because you disagree on one or two things, don't strike down all the good points he's making."