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NFL player and activist discusses free speech at JCL symposium

February 13, 2017

By Lucy Porter C’18

On February 10, the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s Journal of Constitutional Law presented its annual symposium. This year’s event was titled “Hate Crime vs. Hate Speech: Exploring the First Amendment,” and the keynote address was delivered by Malcolm Jenkins, a Philadelphia Eagles player as well as a philanthropist and activist.

Jenkins was one of four Eagles players to participate in the national anthem protests that have been occurring throughout the NFL, and he visited Washington, D.C., to meet with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to discuss race relations and other national issues. This year, he was awarded the Byron White Award for outstanding charitable efforts.

Jenkins opened his address by explaining what inspired him to become an activist. “Like many I have enjoyed the luxury of ignorance,” he said. “But with the advancement of technology, I was shaken out of my peaceful bliss to images and videos of black men and women, boys and girls being punched, kicked, slammed to the concrete…I could no longer sit behind my computer and phone tweeting for justice.”

For Jenkins, much of his entry into activism involved re-learning history. “In grade school, we were taught racism looked like water hoses and dogs,” he said. “And then the Civil Rights movement happened and it went away — and much of that is simply not true.”

Jenkins also referenced Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest as an interesting insight into the world of activism. While Jenkins did not initially agree with Kaepernick’s actions, the national response demonstrated to Jenkins the impact that protest on a national platform, such as the ones professional athletes possess, can have.

After becoming more involved with activism Jenkins found a subsequent frustration. “When you speak up, you realize how many people aren’t speaking up,” said Jenkins. “It’s like screaming into a silent room.”

However, Jenkins persists as he sees it important to use his influence, and his 300,000 social media followers, to pressure Capitol Hill.

He also touched on the differences between generations in their methods of activism. “I wouldn’t be here today without them, and I respect the work they did,” he said. However, he also commented that every older generation is going to be critical, and push for a heavier use of their own approaches.

“No matter what type of activism you are doing, someone somewhere is going to wholeheartedly oppose it,” he added.

Jenkins also remarked on the differences he sees between his responses on Twitter, and in person. Even those who disagree with him are respectful when they are looking eye-to-eye.

“When you stand in front of a person, you see the humanity in them,” he said. “We have the right to free speech, but we must be good stewards of it.”

Tweets from this event: