Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins was skeptical of Colin Kaepernick's chosen form of protest at first. He believed that the resulting focus would be on the demonstration itself -- declining to stand for the national anthem -- rather than the cause for which he was demonstrating.
"It's not going to be about the lives that have been lost across the country, the injustices that are being done to minorities all across this country, that's not what's going to be in the headlines," Jenkins said after a preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts last offseason. "It's going to be about him."
Despite those reservations, it was only a few weeks later -- before a Week 2 matchup at the Chicago Bears -- that Jenkins first joined Kaepernick by raising his fist over his head during the playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner." He continued to do so for the rest of the season. Even if the method wasn't ideal, he concluded, it was an opportunity to show solidarity on an issue that hit home for many.
Jenkins' instincts were largely correct: Kaepernick's actions became the story and dwarfed the motivation behind them. Even now, the conversation is often more about the backlash (Is he being blackballed?) than the fight against social injustice for which he is risking his NFL career.
But what could not be accounted for at the time, and what Jenkins pondered with a hint of amazement during a recent interview with ESPN, was that the controversy surrounding Kaepernick's method would provide super fuel for a discussion -- and even a movement -- that has shown no signs of dying out.
"Now that you look back at the season and what's transpired since then, I think Colin Kaepernick's decision to kneel or take a seat or to protest the national anthem was genius and worked better than I think he even probably assumed at first," Jenkins said during a recent interview with ESPN. "Because here we are a year later and it's still a topic of conversation, and it sparked a conversation that's been long-lasting. And since then, guys have really moved into action and have been doing a lot in the community."
As they continue to transfer from protest to off-the-field service, more and more players around the league are expressing a desire to get involved, said Jenkins, who is part of a network that helps coordinate players' efforts "to make sure that guys are, one, informed about what's going on around them not only on a national level but state and local, and then giving them the resources to actually use their voices effectively and not put them in a situation where they feel like they're going to jeopardize their livelihoods."
Jenkins traveled to Capitol Hill along with receiver Anquan Boldin, safety Glover Quin, quarterback Josh McCown and wide receiver Andrew Hawkins back in November to discuss the issue of police brutality with politicians. Jenkins and Boldin returned to D.C. in March and presented public testimony at a House Judiciary forum with a focus on mass incarceration and supporting legislature that addresses the high rate of recidivism. He and Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith -- a teammate of Kaepernick's the past two years -- will visit the Pennsylvania state capitol on Wednesday to lobby against current legislation to reinstate mandatory minimum prison sentences.
"Kap's got the conversation going; how do you continue to do it?" Smith said. "People are doing their part. Obviously it's behind the scenes. But I think we all have a responsibility bigger than ourselves."
Jenkins simply responded "I don't know" when asked if the protests will continue during the 2017 season, but the general sense is that the players have shifted their focus and plan on using the momentum that Kaepernick kick-started to make strides in their off-the-field efforts.
"Because we know that protesting and demonstrations don't fix the problem," Jenkins said. "They are part of the solution, they bring up the awareness, and now once you have everyone's attention, it's time for an education phase and for us to get out and actually push and move to action."