Malcolm Jenkins among players lobbying for reform

Jenkins, Smith express importance of Clean Slate Act (1:50)

Eagles veterans Malcolm Jenkins, Torrey Smith and Chris Long visit the Pennsylvania State Capitol to put their support behind the Clean Slate Act. (1:50)

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- It was after midnight, and Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins was still at his locker stall. Dressed in a red and black plaid shirt, cargo pants and socks, he lingered after most of his teammates had left, answering every last question about a Monday night victory over the Washington Redskins. It would be another couple hours before his head hit the pillow.

At 5 a.m. he rose, put on a brown custom suit and headed to 30th Street Station to meet up with teammates Chris Long and Torrey Smith and to catch a train to Harrisburg. Two hours later, they arrived at the Pennsylvania Capitol for a full day of meetings with legislators to champion for various bills related to criminal justice reform.

This is what an "off day" can look like for NFL players around the league who have dedicated themselves to social activism.

On Oct. 17, Jenkins and Long were among those who traveled to New York to meet with NFL owners about ways they can work together on causes about which the players have been demonstrating during the pregame national anthem. This time, the meeting was with lawmakers. The players were joined by Omar Khan, the Pittsburgh Steelers' vice president of football and business administration.

One piece of legislation that Jenkins and Smith are particularly passionate about is the Clean Slate Act, which would use technology to automatically seal certain low-level, nonviolent misdemeanor convictions after 10 years in the hopes of reducing the recidivism rate. As they spoke with politicians Tuesday about the bill, it became clear that this issue is very personal for both of them.

"My mother was a felon," Smith said. "In my case, my mother was in a very abusive relationship, [which] led to her becoming a felon due to malicious wounding defending herself. ... [When] we grew up it was tough. We struggled. My mother worked multiple jobs, lower-income jobs or heavy labor jobs, in order to provide for us.

"Ten years later, the Virginia process is a little different. She applied to get her record expunged. She got her rights back. All of a sudden, my mother is making close to six figures because over that 10 years, she educated herself. She is trying to stay helpful for us. ... My mom is able to purchase a house two years after having her record expunged.

"You guys have the ability to impact a lot of families. I'm thankful that I can be here and tell you the power you have."

Jenkins also had a family story to share.

"Watching my brother who got a felony for small amounts of marijuana possession at the age of 20 and now, years later, hasn't re-offended, works very hard, has a family he tries to provide for, but [he] can't find steady employment," Jenkins said. "It helps his brother plays in the NFL. I know there are millions out there that don't have that luxury.

"[I'm] talking about losing opportunities for employment, housing, business loans -- that American dream everyone is fighting for -- for small offenses. ... [In] Pennsylvania, one out of three people have some sort of record. That's a huge amount of people who can be affected by a piece of legislation like this -- that have paid their dues to society, been out of trouble for 10 years. Have that automatically expunged without having to go through the hoops and hurdles, I think is important, especially when we talk about developing our communities and disproportionate effect it has on communities of color."

The Clean Slate Act passed unanimously in the Senate in May and will go to a vote in the House. The players' intention was to try to make the bill a priority. The group is also meeting with legislators to discuss bail reform, juveniles who are sentenced to life without parole, and police transparency/accountability.

"My peers have personal anecdotes that are powerful," Long said. "As I look at those stories, it is a common sense thing for me, as an American citizen, coming from a different walk of life, [that] on an efficiency level the [system] could operate with compared to how it does now. ... Disenfranchised people being able to find housing loans, jobs. [It's] hard enough to stay ahead when you have a clean record.

"Hearing the stories, it blows you away. For me, it is more of an efficiency thing. But the human element is undeniable as well."

Upon request for comment, the Eagles said they supported the legislation.

"The Eagles believe that Senate Bill 529 (pn 854), which was recently passed unanimously by the Pennsylvania State Senate, is an important piece of bipartisan legislation that will help many Pennsylvania citizens become productive members of their communities," the team said in a statement.