Feb. 1 (UPI) — Malcolm Jenkins is what happens when you mix the activism of Colin Kaepernick with the leadership of Troy Smith, Drew Brees and Jim Tressel.
That’s how the Philadelphia Eagles captain and two-time Pro Bowl safety describes it when asked about his early development as a leader.
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz says his “unparalleled” preparation, defensive dimension and an unspoken command for respect mean that rookies and newcomers don’t have to glance far to find the head of the flock.
While some insist that leaders can be born, that doesn’t mean they’re incapable of learning. That’s exactly what the No. 14 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft did while in Columbus, Ohio, suiting up for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Tressel’s tutelage tied teachings to Troy, relayed to a younger Malcolm.
Brees beckoned Bayou brilliance a few short years later. Will Smith – a former Buckeye – and Jonathan Vilma displayed leadership and accountably on the defensive side for the Saints.
And now it’s Jenkins’ time to set the example. But it’s not contained inside the hash marks or flanked by white boundaries, marking a 360 ft. x 160 ft. grassy turf rectangle. It’s not always in a dome. Not even Jenkins’ Super Bowl Sunday stage at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis can contain what Jenkins has discovered.
Jenkins said he found it in the summer of 2016, after a certain Milwaukee native and University of Nevada quarterback chose to sit on a bench during the national anthem before a preseason football game in Santa Clara, Calif. That quarterback – a 28-year-old with a Super Bowl start under his belt and a 27-20 career record at the time – would sit on the bench for another week, a gesture that went unnoticed by the masses. He eventually addressed why he chose not to participate with teammates, standing up for the anthem. His protest evolved to a kneel. Kaepernick eventually opted out of the final year of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers and is pursing a career as an activist. He went unsigned as a free agent in 2017, even after several teams had glaring needs at gunslinger on their respective depth charts.
Despite not being on an NFL roster, Kaepernick was named the Week 1 NFLPA Community MVP for his commitment to empowering underserved communities through donations and grassroots outreach.
“I didn’t realize that the platform could be this big until Colin Kaepernick first took a knee,” Jenkins said. “When he did that, that was kind of an aha moment to me because I had already been doing work in the community, working with police and things like that. But when it came to how I would actually amplify my voice…when I saw what Colin Kaepernick did, and the amount of coverage and conversation that was around him, that’s when I truly realized how much influence we have as athletes, especially if we use our voices collectively. It’s just exponential, The amount of impact that we can have.”
“That has been one of the driving factors, that we are trying to organize and encourage athletes to go out in their communities and to learn about issues…educate themselves and be vocal.”
The Eagles named Jenkins their nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award this season. The honor is given to an NFL player for outstanding community service activities off the field as well as on the field excellence.
He also won the NFLPA’s Byron “Whizzer” White Award in February. That award is given to players who go above and beyond to perform community service in their team cities and hometowns. It is the highest honor given by the NFLPA.
The NFLPA supplied Jenkins with a $100,000 check for claiming the honor. The cash was donated to the Malcolm Jenkins Foundation. TMJF has awarded college scholarships since 2012 and hosts a free two-day football camp for the youth every year. It has also helped to provide nearly 4,000 families in Ohio and Philadelphia with medical screenings, food, toiletries and wellness resources in excess of $1 million. Jenkins’ foundation also provided hundreds of families with meals during the holidays.
He worked with police officers to hand out some of those meals and has gone on police during ride-alongs, soaking in information about the challenges officers face while serving local communities.
Jenkins also met lawmakers and legislators in 2016 at Capitol Hill to fight for criminal justice reform. He joined former NFL wide receiver Anquan Boldin on that trip. The duo helped form the Players’ Coalition, a group that led the NFL to start donating millions of dollars to causes calling for social justice.
He doesn’t kneel during the national anthem. Jenkins holds his fist in the air in the name of criminal justice reform.
Eagles teammate Chris Long has stood next to Jenkins numerous times during the anthem. He has offered support by resting his hand on Jenkins’ shoulder while the defensive back elevates his right arm during the rendition.
Long also put his entire salary on the line this season, donating his earnings in the name of educational initiatives in Boston, St. Louis and Philadelphia.
Jenkins said his off-the-field work has not interfered with his play.
“I haven’t had any issues with what I’ve been doing the last two years,” Jenkins said. “My teammates have been very, very supportive of me. The majority of that comes from the rapport that I had with them before. For them to know me and know what my passions are and what I am in the locker room, know what I am in the community. I don’t think anybody is surprised about what’s going on. The same thing for Chris and Torrey [Smith]. It’s to the point now where we are encouraged to get out in the community. I think, hopefully we can be an example to guys in the league or young guys getting ready to enter the NFL about this whole platform.”
Long, Smith and Jenkins boarded a train just hours after the Eagles’ Monday Night Football victory on Oct. 23 against the Washington Redskins. The trio ended up two hours away, at the Pennsylvania State Capitol. They met with lawmaers to lobby for criminal justice reform.
“You can use that platform to do some great things outside of the field and still be a great player,” Jenkins said. “I know oftentimes, myself as I’ve gone through my career from high school to here, everything has been football, football, football. You don’t realize that life is much bigger than this game. Especially when we talk about life after football and what you want to leave behind. You can do that while you still are at this stage.”
Schwartz said Jenkins sets the standard on the field and his leadership “takes care of itself.”
“I think the bottom line is he’s a really good player for us,” Schwartz said. “You can go get a lot of guys to be leaders, but they need to be good players on the field. That’s the thing with Malcolm. He brings a lot of inspiration to the team. He brings a lot of accountability to the team. He sets a great standard. He’s a tremendous pro. His preparation is unparalleled and that sets such a good tempo, not just for the defense or defensive backs, but for the whole team.”
Jenkins said his philanthropy and activism takes planning and time management. He also has a great support system, including his foundation and wife Morrisa. The Jenkins’ welcomed newborn daughter Selah Nola Jenkins on Jan. 16.
The Eagles’ captain says that he doesn’t think young players feel pressured to be leaders, but there is a lot more exposure to players now compared to when he entered the NFL.
“But my early development, from a leadership standpoint, started with me following,” Jenkins said, before reminiscing about his time at Ohio State and with the Saints, where he won a Super Bowl during his rookie campaign. He says that he eyed how his former teammates prepared on a daily basis and how they interacted with teammates and coaches. He reflects on those days and tries to apply it to where he is now.
It led him to another Super Bowl, starring on one of the best defenses in the league.
“I’ve seen the way he carries himself on the field,” said Smith, who has been teammates in the past with Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Boldin and Kaepernick.
“I’ve seen the way he interacts with not just our team, but what he does off the field. It’s like a full time job. His life is devoted to this team, this sport, the community and his family. I think he’s a model citizen when you think about when it comes to this league. The amount of weight he has on his shoulders, he couldn’t do a better job the way he has handled everything in the last couple years.”
“I’ve had the opportunity to be around a lot of great men. Malcolm is right there at the top. I’m proud to have the opportunity to play with him and get to know him because I didn’t know much about him before. He’s everything that I thought he would be.”