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The list of NFL players who have protested during the national anthem is steadily growing, and Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long wants his teammates to know that he has their back.
Malcolm Jenkins, the Eagles’ strong safety, is one of many players who has been vocal about racial and social inequality in the United States. He has been raising his fist during the national anthem as a sign of protest since last season.
In Thursday night’s game against the Buffalo Bills, the gesture was met with a powerful response, as Long draped his arms around Jenkins’ shoulders in a show of support.
Long, a University of Virginia product who also grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia, said that the recent violence in Charlottesville inspired him to take a stand.
“I just told Malcolm, ‘I’m here for you,'” Long said after the game, according to Andrew Kulp of CSNPhilly.com. “I think it’s a good time for people that look like me to be there for people that are fighting for equality.”
Long added: “It’s been a hard week for everybody. It’s not just a hard week for someone being from Charlottesville. It’s a tough week for America.”
Long was not only troubled by the actions of white nationalist protestors at last weekend’s “Unite the Right” rally – he was also spurred to action by the many counterprotestors who showed up.
“I was inspired by a lot of the allies that were there to stand up against hate in my hometown and I wasn’t able to be there to protest or to stand up against hate,” he said. “People like Heather Heyer gave their life for that and I was inspired by that.”
Jenkins, who knew of Long’s plan before the game, said he was heartened by his teammate’s gesture.
“I think he understands that he could never necessarily know my experience as a black male, but in the light of all that’s going on, as a white male, he understands that he needs to be an ally,” Jenkins said. “He expressed that desire to me, and so I thought it was appropriate to show that gesture of support.”
Long’s decision comes at a time when more and more people are calling for white athletes to stand with the likes of Jenkins, Michael Bennett, and Colin Kaepernick in protesting racial injustices. On Wednesday, Bennett told ESPN’s Michael Smith and Jemele Hill that it “would take a white player to really get things changed.”
Not everyone is pleased with this wave of activism, though. Despite posting a 90.7 passer rating in 2016, Kaepernick remains unsigned, and multiple head coaches have gone on record with hopes that the national anthem protests will stay out of their locker room.
But in spite of this pushback, Long has resolved to continue showing his support for the movement.
“If you don’t see why you need allies for people that are fighting for equality right now, I don’t think you’ll ever see it,” he said. “Malcolm is a leader and I’m here to show support as a white athlete.”