1. The Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles are as ferocious off the field as on
By any standard, the Philadelphia Eagles had a remarkable 2017 season. Coming off a disappointing 7–9 record in 2016, they reeled off six straight wins in 2017 to snag the NFC East title. And after their second-year quarterback, Carson Wentz—who was likely en route to becoming the league’s MVP—went down with a torn ACL in week 14, backup Nick Foles led the team through the playoffs and to an astonishing Super Bowl victory, the franchise’s first.
Now, as the 2018 season dawns, the Eagles remain among the league’s elite, but it’s not just their on-field dominance that’s striking. They’ve also established themselves as the most socially conscious team in the NFL, a locker room full of committed activists and philanthropists that are challenging the way fans and critics perceive NFL players. Even if you’re not from Philly, it’s hard not to cheer for them.
The Eagles’ activist mentality has been publicly evolving over the last few seasons, but it became front-page news in June, after the team was disinvited from the White House. The cancellation was ascribed to Eagles players having kneeled during the national anthem last season. Except that wasn’t the case: No player took a knee. The Eagles all stood, though safety Malcolm Jenkins raised his fist during the anthem, and penned a Washington Post op-ed explaining why. In the piece, he discussed the work he and 40 other players are doing in the Players Coalition to reform the criminal justice system, “which is crippling our nation and especially affects people who are poor or of color.” Jenkins called for police transparency and an end to the money-bail system. This was hardly a new stance for Jenkins; in addition to his namesake foundation, which develops youth programs, he founded the Let’s Listen Together initiative to discuss police-community relations. After the White House snub, when reporters surrounded him looking for comments, Jenkins instead silently held up signs bearing messages such as “More than 60 percent of people in prison are people of color.”
When Jenkins raised his fist during the anthem, defensive end Chris Long expressed his solidarity by putting his arm around his teammate’s shoulders, becoming the most visible white player to wade into the anthem controversy. Long is no stranger to social issues himself. He started a foundation that builds wells in East Africa and endorsed Bernie Sanders for president. Long also donated his entire $1 million 2017 salary to charities, primarily educational causes, and joined Jenkins in lobbying lawmakers for criminal justice reform bills, along with Eagles players Rodney McLeod and Torrey Smith (now with the Panthers). Even quarterback Carson Wentz has become a leader in the community: His foundation works with underprivileged youth, veterans, and the physically challenged, and he donated $120,000 to an organization that provides service dogs to people in need.
Further bolstering their bona fides on and off the field, the Eagles traded this off-season for Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, a three-time Pro Bowler and one of the players who joined Jenkins in sending a 10-page memo to commissioner Roger Goodell that helped secure a $90 million pledge from the league to fund community programs. Bennett is also the author of the new book Things That Make White People Uncomfortable, which discusses his past experiences with racism as well as his activism.
Bennett was known for his community work in Seattle, and he’s eager to find out about the issues facing Philly; the Eagles not only plan to defend their Super Bowl title but also to learn how they can best use their growing platform to fight for change. “We’ve got a lot of guys who are hoping to have dialogue about things that most people don’t want to talk about,” says Bennett. “The thing for me is finding ways to have our voice and also be able to build bridges to the communities that don’t get represented.”
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