Eagles and Meek Mill: It’s a Philly thing and a story of support The incarcerated rapper has helped fuel the team’s first Super Bowl appearance in 13 seasons, while the team has helped boost his spirits

ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA – As the iconic theme song from Rocky blasted through loudspeakers late Monday night at the Xcel Energy Center here, the NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles took the stage on opening night of Super Bowl week. For this edition of the team, however, rapper Meek Mill’s “Dreams and Nightmares” would have been a more appropriate musical selection.

The incarcerated Philadelphia native – whose situation typifies problems with sentencing guidelines, criminal justice reform advocates say – has helped fuel the Eagles’ first Super Bowl appearance in 13 seasons, providing the team’s unofficial anthem. And in turn, the Eagles have bolstered Mill’s spirits while he serves his sentence for violating probation stemming from a 2008 gun and drug case.

Mill is still confined to a medium-security prison in Chester, Pennsylvania. But he was with the Eagles in spirit, players said.

“With Meek, man, it’s a Philly vibe,” Eagles rookie wide receiver Rashard Davis said. “Philly is his hometown. That’s where his people reside. We’re just bringing that culture, that hype, to our football field.

“Before each game, Meek is getting us riled up for the game. You can’t help but get riled up. You just feel that energy. And our crowd feels that energy. Just play Meek, get the crowd riled up and just go ball out.”

Interesting formula. So far, it has worked spectacularly.

After earning home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, the Eagles defeated the Atlanta Falcons, 15-10, in the divisional round. Then in the championship game, the Eagles dismantled the Minnesota Vikings, 38-7.

During pregame warm-ups each week, Lincoln Financial Field has been transformed briefly into a Meek Mill concert venue. The Eagles bounce to the beat – and they definitely put a beatdown on the Vikings. Postgame, the lyrics from the title track of the rapper’s 2012 album filled the locker room, which pleased wideout Torrey Smith.

“Meek is an icon in every NFL locker room,” Smith said. “And he’s definitely an icon to folk like me, who know what it’s like to come from struggle, know what it’s like to grind and just know what it’s like to overcome obstacles. He’s a perfect example of all of that. He’s also a person like me who, while I haven’t committed any crimes myself or fell victim to the [criminal justice] system, I have seen it.

“I’ve seen what can happen. It has affected friends of mine. It has affected my family members. And sentencing like this, what Meek is living with right now, is part of the reason why I was a criminal justice major. Things like this flat-out don’t make sense. It’s a waste of taxpayer money. We’re aware of all of that, what he’s going through is important to us, and we also definitely get energy off of his music.”

Meek Mill derives strength partly from the Eagles’ success.

“It really lifted my spirit to hear the team rally around my songs because that’s why I make music — to inspire others and bring people together,” Mill, 30, said in a statement released to Bleacher Report and NBC Sports Philadelphia.

“The Eagles have also motivated me with the way they’ve overcome tough situations and injuries to succeed this year. I’m so proud of my Eagles for making the Super Bowl and representing the city of Philadelphia. I’m confident my guys are going to beat the [New England] Patriots and bring the Super Bowl trophy to Philly.”

Smith, safety Malcolm Jenkins and defensive end Chris Long have championed criminal justice reform. They’re among many current and former professional athletes – NBA superstar James Harden recently visited Meek Mill in prison – who have spoken out about the rapper, who in November was sentenced to two to four years for a probation violation. This week, Meek Mill matched Colin Kaepernick’s $10,000 donation to Youth Services Inc. of Philadelphia, part of Kaepernick’s Million Dollar Pledge.

“The Meek Mill situation is one that represents the stuff that happens every day when you talk about people being victimized by the criminal justice system,” Jenkins said. “Once you get a record and once you have a rap sheet, it allows the system to really do with you how it sees fit. And oftentimes, that’s a burden that’s carried [disproportionately] by people of color. We’ve seen this repeatedly.

“Because Meek is such a prominent figure, now everybody sees what’s really happening out there. People see this is happening to Americans every day. And unfortunately, he’s still behind bars. But he has a lot of people who are supporting him. His music has been something that this team has rallied around. It’s something that is near and dear to the city of Philadelphia. We’ll continue to support him and ride his music throughout the Super Bowl.”

Have the Eagles moved on from the Rocky theme song for good?

Rocky is always going to be Rocky in Philly. But that’s the older generation,” Davis said. “Meek has brought something new to the table. You always have to pay respect to Rocky. But Meek is important. Especially with what’s going on.”

‘My Cause My Cleats’: The top 24 Week 13 customs — and why players wore them Reppin’ everything from the American Cancer Society to the Trayvon Martin Foundation to Kaepernick

Week 13 in the National Football League, at least since last season, is all about creativity, customization and cause. Through the “My Cause My Cleats” campaign, which the league started in 2016, players can bend uniform guidelines and wear cleats designed to represent a cause of their choice.

Typically, players are only allowed to wear custom-painted kicks during pregame warm-ups. Then switch to uniform footwear while the game clock is rolling. But in Week 13, flashy cleats in vibrant colors, featuring unique illustrations and messages, are the norm. Athletes all across the NFL, from every position group, commission the hottest designers in the sneaker game to create the perfect pair of cleats for their cause. This year, around 1,000 players reportedly took part in the initiative, and after games ended, select cleats were sold at auction, with 100 percent of the proceeds benefiting causes such as the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, Colin Kaepernick’s #KnowYourRightsCamp, Habitat for Humanity, autism, POW and MIA families, anti-bullying, social justice and criminal justice reform, the Trayvon Martin Foundation and more.

“This weekend, you’ll really see the impact art has had on the NFL,” Los Angeles artist Troy Cole, aka Kickasso, tweeted before Sunday’s games. Last season, he designed every pair of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s anticipated pregame cleats. “Art is a powerful way to tell a story #MyCauseMyCleats.”

Here are The Undefeated’s top 24 “My Cause My Cleats” customs, along with the players who wore them, the causes they supported and the artistic geniuses who brought charitable creativity to life.

Chidobe Awuzie, Cornerback, Dallas Cowboys

Cause: #BringBackOurGirls campaign

Joe Barksdale, Offensive Tackle, Los Angeles Chargers

Instagram Photo

Cause: Fender Music Foundation

Designer: DeJesus Custom Footwear Inc.

Michael Bennett, Defensive End, Seattle Seahawks

Cause: National League of POW/MIA Families

A.J. Bouye, Cornerback, Jacksonville Jaguars

Cause: American Cancer Society

Designer: Kickasso

Antonio Brown, Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers

Instagram Photo

Cause: RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network)

Designer: Corey Pane

Kurt Coleman, Safety, Carolina Panthers

Cause: Levine Children’s Hospital

Designer: Ryan Bare, SR Customs

Mike Daniels, defensive end, Green Bay Packers

Cause: Anti-bullying

Designer: SolesBySir

Stefon Diggs, Wide Receiver, Minnesota Vikings

Cause: American Heart Association

Designer: Mache Customs

DeSean Jackson, Wide Receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Instagram Photo

Cause: Brotherhood Crusade

Designer: SolesBySir

Malcolm Jenkins, Safety, Philadelphia Eagles

Cause: Social Justice and Criminal Justice Reform, Players Coalition

Designer: Sixth-grade class at Jubilee School, Illustrative Cre8ions

Eddie Lacy, Running Back, Seattle Seahawks

Cause: International Relief Teams, Hurricane Katrina

Designer: Bizon Customs

Jarvis Landry, Wide Receiver, Miami Dolphins

Instagram Photo

Cause: Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

Marshon Lattimore, Cornerback, New Orleans Saints

Cause: Social injustices and honoring close friend Dayton Williams, who was shot and killed in 2010 in Euclid, Ohio.

Rishard Matthews, Wide Receiver, Tennessee Titans

Instagram Photo

Cause: Colin Kaepernick, Know Your Rights Camp

Designer: SolesBySir

Gerald McCoy, Defensive Tackle, Tampa Bay buccaneers

Instagram Photo

Cause: “The Life of a Single Mom”

Designer: The Hulfish Project

Eric Reid, Safety, San Francisco 49ers

Cause: Colin Kaepernick, Know Your Rights Camp

Designer: Tragik MCMXCIII

A’shawn Robinson, Defensive Tackle, Detroit Lions

Cause: Leukemia patients

Jaylon Smith, Linebacker, Dallas Cowboys

Cause: Autism

Designer: The Hulfish Project

Torrey Smith, Wide Receiver, Philadelphia Eagles

Instagram Photo

Cause: Torrey Smith Family Fund, Show Your Soft Side, Players Coalition, NO More Campaign

Designer: Kreative Custom Kicks, Dez Customz

Shane Vereen, Running Back, New York Giants

Cause: Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles

Designer: Kickasso

Anthony Walker, Linebacker, Indianapolis Colts

Cause: Trayvon Martin Foundation

Designer: Desmond J. Jones, Art is Dope

Deshaun Watson, Quarterback, Houston Texans

Cause: Habitat for Humanity

Designer: 5-year-old twins Kayla and Jakwan; Evan Melnyk, Nike

Russell Wilson, Quarterback, Seattle Seahawks

Cause: Why Not You Foundation

Designer: Kate Neckel and Dash Tsai


Daryl Worley, Cornerback, Carolina Panthers

Instagram Photo

Cause: CeaseFirePA

Designer: SR Customs

Texans players enraged over Bob McNair’s ‘inmates’ comment and these are the facts Players react and social media delivers as the story unfolds

It’s Week 8 of the NFL season and more drama is unfolding following President Donald Trump’s statements during a speech at a political rally Sept. 22 in Huntsville, Alabama, against kneeling during the national anthem to raise awareness of racial inequalities that started the storm.

While some players are still standing in solidarity and exercising their right to freedom of expression, other players are looking for solutions. But after Houston Texans owner Bob McNair’s statements in a private meeting about the protests were revealed, players are faced with a new issue.

On Oct. 18 during a meeting attended by NFL owners, player union representatives and team executives, McNair said, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison.”

The comment was reported by ESPN’s Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta Jr. and in ESPN The Magazine, where they cited complex details about the meeting.

As Friday went on, and the story unfolded, here are some facts to consider and players’ reactions.

Others in the meeting were offended by McNair’s characterization.

NFL executive Troy Vincent said he’s been called many things including the N-word but he never felt like an “inmate.” McNair later pulled Vincent aside and apologized, saying that he felt horrible, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

McNair issued a public apology Friday following the ESPN The Magazine report.

“I regret that I used that expression,” McNair said in a statement. “I never meant to offend anyone and I was not referring to our players. I used a figure of speech that was never intended to be taken literally. I would never characterize our players or our league that way and I apologize to anyone who was offended by it.”

McNair’s comments enrage players despite the delivery of the news.

Texans head coach Bill O’Brien held a morning meeting Friday so the players would not be blindsided, sources told Schefter.

Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins was not having any of it.

About 10 players, including Hopkins, left the facility Friday. Sources told Schefter that Hopkins’ absence from practice Friday was directly related to McNair’s comment. Most of the players who left returned to the facility, the source added, and the remaining players were talked out of staging a walkout by the coaching staff. The team is expecting that all players including Hopkins, will make the flight to Seattle Saturday for Sunday’s matchup against the Seahawks. O’Brien called Hopkins’ absence from practice a “personal day.”

An emotional meeting was held for players.

O’Brien, general manager Rick Smith and assistant head coach Romeo Crennel led a 90-minute meeting to allow players to honestly express their feelings. The goal was to make sure that the organization did not splinter and that it would turn protest into progress. The players were emotional during the meeting. The meeting delayed the start of practice.

“When it happened, there’s a thousand emotions going through your mind,” Texans left tackle Duane Brown said. “Obviously, one of the emotions is to leave the building immediately. We decided to go to work. The situation’s not over. It’s something that we’ll reconvene and talk about again, but we had practice today.”

O’Brien said he’s for his players.

“I’m 100 percent with these players,” O’Brien said. “I love these players, I love this coaching staff. We will show up in Seattle and play. We will play very hard. Seattle is a great football team with a great coaching staff. But we will be there when the ball is kicked off in Seattle.”

Brown said he “can’t stay quiet about it.”

The Texans players have not decided what they’ll do for the national anthem but Brown is speaking out. “I think it was ignorant,” Brown said. “I think it was embarrassing. I think it angered a lot of players, including myself. We put our bodies and minds on the line every time we step on that field, and to use an analogy of inmates in prison, that’s disrespectful. That’s how I feel about it.”

When asked if Brown would consider not playing on Sunday because of McNair’s comments, he said he wasn’t sure.

“This game, this locker room, this field that we play on isn’t just about him,” Brown said. “So it’s a lot of factors you have to consider when you step on that field. Definitely something that myself, and I think a lot of people in there, have to consider going forward.

Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said the players were looking forward to change.

“From a player’s perspective, I think we’ve done a great job of trying to work in a collaborative manner with the league to really come up with solutions, to move forward and create some real change, and I don’t see that changing,” he said. “Obviously, his comments will represent him, but from a player’s standpoint, we’re focused on our goals, we feel like we still have an opportunity to move forward with whoever is interested in doing that, and so hopefully we can get that same type of commitment from those in league leadership.

“That’s our goal. It’s not to appease one another, it’s not to change someone’s personal opinion, it’s just to get some actual work done and change done. That’s what our focus is going to be. Obviously you have quite a few different comments come from different owners, but I feel like players have been very, very diligent in making sure that our message has been one that we want to continue to push forward, that we want to continue to collaborate and move forward. So hopefully we can get to that point.”

Other players and notables took to social media regarding the incident.

Instagram Photo

The NFL has a Kaepernick problem that’s bigger than just Kaepernick now Thanks, in part, to current events, the question has switched from ‘Who will stand up with Kaepernick?’ to ‘Who could possibly stand against him?’

Last August, the story was about Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand for the national anthem, decrying racism and police brutality with a method that harkened back to the nonviolent protests of the civil rights era. The then-Niners quarterback asked at the time: “At what point do we do something about it? At what point do we take a stand as a people and say this isn’t right?”

This August, a rally against the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee turned deadly when white nationalists, including neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan — many dressed in combat gear, some carrying firearms, others torches — infested Charlottesville, Virginia, with their bigotry and violence, only to be confronted by large numbers of protesters who would not back down.

Sandwiched within that reality was an act of domestic terrorism — a car plowed into a crowd of protesters, killing one and injuring 19 others, some critically. Suddenly, the much-discussed racial divide in America was right there for everyone to see. And guess who’s looking more right — more righteous — than anyone could’ve ever imagined:

Mr. Kaepernick himself.

Why? Because Kaepernick’s lawful protest now stands in the context of David Duke telling the press, “We are determined to take our country back.” In the context of President Donald Trump’s not only refusing to directly condemn white nationalism but also creating a moral equivalency between them and the ones who came out to fight to keep America free for everyone. A stance Trump walked back only after extreme pressure and a tweet insulting the black CEO of Merck. Enough with the cries of “This is not our America.” This is our America. Maybe the connection between Kaepernick expressing his rights as an American to draw attention to his belief that black lives matter and the events in Charlottesville isn’t a straight line, but it’s not that crooked either. Who can now doubt that the racism that Kaepernick was protesting is real — and far more dangerous and deadly and visceral than previously believed?

That is why Kaepernick needs to get a job in the NFL. Not as a backup in the middle of the season when the quarterbacks start going down. Now. If the NFL thought giving him a job would prove a distraction or somehow damage its brand, it was wrong. Now it’s facing down the opposite problem. First, it was just Kaepernick’s voice needing to be silenced. Now it’s Beast Mode, Michael Bennett, Malcolm Jenkins, Richard Sherman, and the list will only grow. All of them using their megaphone to talk about the “blackballing” of the former 49ers quarterback.


Kaepernick’s absence from NFL stirring a movement Stephen A. Smith hopes that the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend will open the eyes of NFL owners to what Colin Kaepernick stands for.

And now in one weekend, the question for many inside and outside the NFL quite literally has transitioned from “Who will stand up with Kaepernick?” to “Who could possibly stand against him?”

For now, though, let’s turn our attention just to NFL owners, who have the cash and the platform to provoke change — not TO mention also the power to give him a job. NFL owners not only have their players to contend with but, potentially, millions of football fans to answer to — many of whom never had a problem with Kaepernick exercising his constitutional right in the first place.

Owners want their pockets fattened. By folks watching and patronizing the NFL shield. Once upon a time, they thought they’d be able to LIMIT any damage by simply allowing Kaepernick to drift into unemployment, believing he couldn’t possibly affect their bottom line because he’d offended too many fans who just wanted him TO shut UP and play.

And while some may agree, others may disagree, I have no doubt that it was far easier for owners to give Kaepernick the proverbial finger and tell him to take his activism elsewhere last Friday than it is for them to tell him so now. No owner wants to be seen as being dismissive and detached from what’s going on in this country today. No owner wants to come across as indifferent to the current plight of minorities of all races, colors and creeds.

Charlottesville HAS made Kaepernick’s question — “At what point do we take a stand as a people and say this isn’t right?” — visible. Much like the wildly diverse protesters who came out to fight white nationalists, there are masses of widely diverse NFL fans who once dismissed Kaepernick as a distraction but can now see the bigger picture.

A woman died. Others are fighting for their lives. A 20-year-old has been charged with second-degree manslaughter and malicious wounding. The motive was racism. Bigotry. Anti-Semitism.

Last summer, Kaepernick said, “I want to bring attention to the racial oppression that exists in this country.”

If he was faulted before, he certainly can’t be blamed now.

Not by billionaire businessmen perpetually hesitant to say or do what is right.

Not with the specter of Charlottesville still infesting our collective consciousness.

Not when another Charlottesville is always on the horizon.

The show, the after-party, the hotel — live from The 2017 ESPYS Peyton Manning, LL Cool J, Ice Cube made all the memories

It’s one thing to watch an awards show on TV. It’s different to be there in person. And it’s totally different to actually have to work it. You see everything. You hear everything. And, most importantly, you feel everything. For example, it was impossible not to shed tears when Jarrius Robertson was handed the Jimmy V Perseverance Award. Goose bumps arrived when former first lady Michelle Obama graced the stage to honor Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver. But for those who require a more intimate view of what The ESPYS were like, I’m glad you’re here. Follow along.

The Red Carpet Hustle

This was my first red carpet experience. I didn’t know what to expect going in, but as the great songwriting philosopher Jay-Z once said, Fresh out the frying pan/ Into the fryer. Once it’s on, it’s on. Publicists coming up to you asking if you want to speak to their clients. Jumping on the carpet and chasing people down to speak to them. It looks glamorous on TV, but it’s a haze in real life. From Malcolm Jenkins, Draya Michele, Josh Norman, Dak Prescott, Derrick Johnson and more. Sweating in a suit and standing for three hours isn’t glamorous. But if you get a chance to do it, I recommend it.

Peyton Manning’s opening monologue

Manning didn’t say, “Omaha!” which remains a severe disappointment, but his opening monologue? Yeah, he did that. There wasn’t much doubt as to whether the two-time Super Bowl-winning signal-caller would do well at hosting. He’s one of the more personable athletes in sports, with a list of comedic moments to his name already — his Saturday Night Live appearances are some of the funniest spots in the show’s history. But believe me when I tell you this: His Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook joke had everyone in the building laughing while also saying, “Yikes.” K.D.’s and Westbrook’s reaction was all that needed to be said. Then he followed it up with a quip about the Atlanta Falcons blowing the biggest lead in Super Bowl history. For what it’s worth, Jamie Foxx is still the greatest of all time ESPYS host. Justin Timberlake and Drake were pretty good as well. But The Sheriff was on one last night.

LL Cool J’s catalog is certified

I’ll be the first to admit I was hesitant about attending a party that featured LL Cool J as headliner. He’s a hip-hop icon and should be the next rapper inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But it’s 2017, LL’s a TV star, and music doesn’t necessarily feel like his main objective anymore (which is totally understandable), combined with the fact that Naughty By Nature had performed at ESPN The Magazine’s Body Party the night before with extremely limited success (for the record, Naughty was cool, but the trio really only has a handful of songs that cross over).

Needless to say, any concerns I had about LL walking into the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles were quickly alleviated. His catalog is deep. He came out to “Mama Said Knock You Out.” Then there was “I’m Bad.” “I Can’t Live Without My Radio,” too. By far, though, the highlight of LL’s set was the Total-assisted “Who Do You Love.” The entire venue instantly went back to 1996. Everyone danced with each other and sang the hook in unison, Who do you love?/ Are you for sure?

The ESPYS Post Party Presented by Coors Light.

Kohjiro Kinno / ESPN Images

The energy kicked up when LL brought out Ice Cube and WC to perform “Bow Down” and “Gangsta Nation.” Also, if you ever needed proof that Cube is a living legend, check and see how a room full of people react to his (and N.W.A.’s) “Straight Outta Compton.” There’s something about yelling, Straight Outta Compton, crazy m—-f—– named Ice Cube/ From a gang called N—-s With Attitude. All in all, LL won last night. The only complaint I had was he didn’t do “Paradise” with Amerie. Or “I Need Love.”

There’s always an after-party to the after-party

About 2 1/2 hours into the official after-party is when people begin planning their next move. It’s Los Angeles. There’s always another move. There was a Vanity Fair move. And an Uninterrupted one that was apparently full before it even began because everyone was texting everyone else to see who they knew who could get them in. The trick is, if you’re going out, you can’t overdo it at the open bar. Which, let me be perfectly clear, is much easier said than done. You’re always convincing yourself one more drink can’t hurt when it doesn’t hurt your bank account. And nights like that normally end with 3:30 a.m. trips to Subway. I should know.

The hotel

Just don’t be that guy, slightly inebriated at near 4 in the morning, standing on the elevator wondering why the JW Marriott has a dysfunctional elevator because it won’t take you to your floor. You’re pressing “7” to take you to your floor, but it’s not going anywhere. You’re standing with a delicious Subway sandwich in your hand, and all you want to do is eat and fall asleep, but you can’t because the elevator is broken. You seriously waste a good five minutes mad because the establishment won’t let you be great — or maybe it was doing you a favor, because did you really need Subway at near 4 in the morning? Of course you didn’t, you savage. Then you realize you have to scan your card, and you feel like an idiot. I should know.

Muhammad Ali’s words are transformed into ‘Ali Prose’ to inspire kids to become poets The contest will award scholarships for the best submissions by high school students

Everyone knows there was more, much more, to the late, great boxing champion Muhammad Ali than his fiery moves inside the ring. His sharp tongue, rhyming words and singsong continue to move fans nearly 60 years after his first fight.

Ali’s prose, a genre of its own, is so influential that Campaign for Black Male Achievement (CBMA) has used The Greatest’s words to encourage black high school seniors in Detroit; Oakland, California; Chicago; Washington, D.C.; Milwaukee; Baltimore; and New York to express their inner Ali through the organization’s first poetry contest, Ali Prose.

One of his most popular chants, which he and trainer Drew Bundini Brown commonly used to hype the boxer up before and during fights, serves as the name of CBMA’s annual event: Rumble Young Man, Rumble.

“As many people will recall, not only was Ali a great fighter, some people say he was one of the first rappers,” said Steve Vassor, director of Rumble Young Man, Rumble. “He actually created what some categorized as pretty bad poetry, but it was poetry nonetheless. You’ll find that he’s a visual artist, you’ll find that he’s a cultural icon, you’ll find that he’s a civil rights fighter.”

Within the contest, the theme of the submitted poems should honor Ali’s legacy and include one of his six core principles: confidence, conviction, dedication, giving, respect and spirituality. And they shouldn’t be more than 20 lines long.

“What we want to do is get poetry from young men across the country inspired by Ali and his six core principles and the idea of black male achievement, then pick the best of the bunch that comes through,” Vassor said. “Again, it’s just another way to extol those who are leading the site for black men and boys around the country in whatever way they rumble. We’re hoping to lift up some poetry that will do what Bundini and Ali did for each other in terms of getting them amped for the fight.”

Poetry submissions, which are due April 23, will be judged by poet, publisher and educator Haki R. Madhubuti and international youth slam poetry champions Philly Youth Poetry Movement. All three winners will receive scholarships with a combined value of $1,750 and have their profiles featured on CBMA’s website.

Vassor said the Ali theme during National Poetry Month was a perfect match. Besides the contest’s thought-provoking submissions, Vassor hopes the conversation surrounding CBMA and Rumble Young Man, Rumble’s efforts will continue to help make the lives of young black men an ongoing priority.

“We would like to develop Rumble into more of a lifestyle so that it’s not just an annual event that only 150 people can attend,” Vassor said. “Our intention is to create a series of engagements and activities across the year. This poetry contest is one way to extend this idea of Rumble beyond one annual event.”

Anquan Boldin and Malcolm Jenkins speak at congressional forum on community-police relations For the second time in six months, NFL players visit Capitol Hill to push for change

During a congressional forum on building trust between the nation’s communities and police, a 36-year-old black man sat before several prominent African-American leaders and delivered chilling testimony about his cousin, who died in October 2015 at the hands of a plainclothes officer.

Corey Jones was driving home from a show with his church band around 2 a.m. when his car broke down on the side of a Florida highway. A white cargo van pulled up, and out of it emerged Officer Nouman Raja in jeans, sneakers and a T-shirt. In the ensuing moments, Raja fired six shots, and Jones was dead.

“I wish I could tell you Corey’s story was unique. I wish I could tell you that now, over a year later, we know exactly what happened and that the issue was resolved,” the man told U.S. Reps. Lacy Clay (D-Missouri), Brenda Lawrence (D-Michigan), John Conyers (D-Michigan), Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Cedric Richmond (D-Louisiana) and Hank Johnson (D-Georgia) at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

“I wish I could tell you Corey didn’t die in the first place. As a matter of fact, I wish I wasn’t here talking to you at all, but I am.”

That man was free-agent wide receiver and Super Bowl champion Anquan Boldin. To the right of him was Philadelphia Eagles Pro Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins, who also testified, primarily on juvenile mass incarceration, and answered questions from members of Congress as part of a panel called “NFL Players Speak Up: First-Hand Experiences and Building Trust Between Communities and Police.”

General view of the congressional forum to hear from NFL players about their own experiences and how they hope to improve relationships with minority communities and the police while supporting programs to help inmates successfully re-enter their communities at the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform at the Rayburn House Office Building.

Tasos Katopodis for The Undefeated

The forum concluded a three-day trip to Capitol Hill for Boldin and Jenkins, who were joined by Detroit Lions cornerback Johnson Bademosi, former NFL wide receiver Donte Stallworth and Joe Briggs, the NFL Players Association’s (NFLPA) public policy counsel.

“Let me thank you all for stepping off the field and stepping back into the real life that you all lived before you made it to the NFL and before you played in college. To get out of your comfort zone, but to actually give back and fight for issues that are critical,” Richmond said in his opening statement to the forum. “We don’t see it enough. But you all do it, and most of our African-American male athletes do it, you just don’t get the attention for it. You only get the attention for doing the wrong thing, but when you’re doing the right thing you don’t get as much attention, so let me thank you.”

This week marked the second time in six months that NFL players have traveled to Washington, D.C., to advocate for social justice. In November 2016, Boldin, Jenkins, Detroit Lions safety Glover Quin, then-Cleveland Browns quarterback Josh McCown and wide receiver Andrew Hawkins engaged in preliminary meetings on police brutality and racial injustice with members of Congress, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin).

The first trip, Jenkins said, was just to get their feet wet. The second time around, he and Boldin prepared for — and had — deeper discussions.

“It was much more productive. We obviously had a lot more meetings, got in front of a lot more people. I felt like we were heard,” the 29-year-old Jenkins said. “The biggest part is just continuing to show up, continuing to advocate, gaining support and trying to get this as high up on the list of priorities to actually get it pushed through.”

Malcolm Jenkins of the Philadelphia Eagles shakes hands with a guest at the congressional forum.

Tasos Katopodis for The Undefeated

Jenkins, who has gone on a ride-along with Philadelphia police and visited a prison to speak with inmates since the start of the last NFL season, credited Boldin for getting him involved in political reform. Together, they have united on a complementary front, with Boldin seeking increased trust between communities and police through governmental funding for police training, while Jenkins focuses on juvenile mass incarceration and the need for more resources for individuals released from prison.

“I wanted to partner with like-minded people. Two heads are better than one,” Boldin said. “Whenever you can balance out ideas off different people and hear different perspectives, I think that’s always better because I can have a concern and I can just come at it from one angle. To hear different people, especially people that are passionate about the same causes that you are, I think it makes it even better.”

While former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been the poster child of the renaissance the NFL (and sports in general) is experiencing with players speaking out on social justice issues, Boldin’s wake-up call came long before Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem.

“For me, my cousin was killed before the whole protesting began. I began to speak out then. Unfortunately, my voice wasn’t heard until guys started to protest,” Boldin said. “It’s unfortunate that it’s that way. But if that’s what had to happen for this issue to be pushed to the forefront, then so be it. For me, I would partner with anybody who has a legitimate cause and concern about any injustices. I’m not concerned about who gets credit for doing whatever. I’m just about making change.”

After the testimony from Boldin and Jenkins, Richmond pledged full support for the two NFL players as those who sat before them challenged President Donald Trump to “get out of his comfort zone,” Richmond said, and begin comprehensive reform of the criminal justice system.

“We are committed. … The legacy of the people you see up here is a legacy of hard work to change it,” said Richmond, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “To the extent that we both can elevate our voice together, I think we should do that.”

Before the forum concluded, Cummings posed one question: Is there anyone else in the NFL looking to get involved?

“There are a lot of guys that have concerns about what’s going on in their communities and across the nation that are looking for ways to get involved,” Jenkins responded. “They’re not sure what to do, but they do want to put in some work. And that’s kind of what me and Anquan are doing, is really trying to blaze that trail for them to follow along.”

To consolidate that effort among players, Jenkins said, the NFLPA recently established a community engagement committee, with criminal justice reform on the list of the issues they’re hoping to address.

Malcolm Jenkins of the Philadelphia Eagles and Anquan Boldin of the Detroit Lions speak at a congressional forum to hear from NFL players about their own experiences and how they hope to improve relationships with minority communities and the police while supporting programs to help inmates successfully re-enter their communities at the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform at the Rayburn House Office Building.

Tasos Katopodis for The Undefeated

“For us, we’re just trying to create a safe haven for guys to be active in their communities because — I mean, just being honest — guys are concerned about their livelihood,” Boldin added. “So we’re trying to make it to where our guys don’t have to be afraid to speak out and would be more than willing to step up to the plate.”

Boldin and Jenkins vowed that the visits to Washington will continue. Perhaps the next time they’ll have more NFL representatives beside them.

Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins talks about his ride-along with Philly Police Department The Pro Bowler continues to shine more light on the country’s need for criminal justice reform

If San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sparked the conversation, Malcolm Jenkins has kept it going. Inspired by Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem before NFL games in protest of the country’s persistent racial inequality, Jenkins, a Pro Bowl safety for the Philadelphia Eagles, raised his right fist to the sky during the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before his team’s Week 2 game against the Chicago Bears. At first, Jenkins was joined in protest by two teammates. By the end of the season, he was the lone player on Philadelphia’s sideline throwing up the Black Power salute.

After the anthem, and off the field, Jenkins’ push for social justice and racial equality continued. Along with four other NFL players, he traveled to Washington, D.C., for a meeting with lawmakers to discuss criminal justice reform. He’s collaborated with Philadelphia’s Caucus of Working Educators to advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement. And during the season, he saw the city from the passenger seat of a squad car while on a ride-along with a Philadelphia police officer.

Philadelphia Eagles strong safety Malcolm Jenkins (27) raises his fist during the National Anthem before the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Lincoln Financial Field.

Philadelphia Eagles strong safety Malcolm Jenkins (27) raises his fist during the National Anthem before the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Lincoln Financial Field.

James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

Jenkins’ experience is captured in the latest installment of The Clubhouse, a series of short films from executive producer Carmelo Anthony, VICE Sports and ESPN Films. Before the film’s release, Jenkins spoke about receiving a firsthand look at a police officer’s daily duties, his relationship with Kaepernick and whether he’ll raise his fist before games next season.

Given what the country has experienced in the past year regarding of community-police relations, how important was the ride-along to you?

There was a lot I wanted to accomplish by doing it. First, I wanted to kind of learn for myself before I went on advocating and making a lot of noise. I wanted to learn for myself, kind of both ends of the spectrum. What is it that officers are going through? What are their challenges? Their perspective on the issue. Or even if they believed that there was an issue. And then also being able to hear the voices of members of the community that have to deal with police interactions all the time. The third thing I wanted to do is document the conversations that came out of it, between myself and law enforcement. Letting them kind of give their side, documenting their voices, but then also documenting the different interactions between the police and community here in Philadelphia. It was a learning experience for me. Kind of me doing some hands-on research, but also an opportunity to interact and collaborate with the police department and different communities of Philadelphia.

The Pro Bowler’s ride-along with police shines more light on the country’s need for criminal justice reform.

During your ride-along, you experienced a shooting. What was that like for you, and did you expect to have that experience?

I didn’t expect to have anything like that happen. We responded to a shooting, and so we showed up probably 10 minutes after it was all done, and had the opportunity to view the scene almost. Just walk down the street and ask people what they thought. A bullet went through a lady’s window and she gave us the opportunity to come into her home and talk to her, kind of almost walk through that with her. That was kind of eye-opening for me, for multiple reasons. You’ve got really good people who live in these communities. But there’s crime, there’s drugs around, and there’s not a relationship with police, because nobody’s getting information. There’s tons of people outside, but nobody wants to get involved. They don’t feel like the police are there to protect them, so they don’t give information. The officers are mad because they’re trying to clean up the streets, they’re trying to get whoever did it, but there’s no cooperation. It was an eye-opening experience.

What was your biggest takeaway from the ride-along?

My biggest takeaway was that there are definitely a lot more officers out there that are doing an awesome job that don’t get highlighted enough. But the disconnect and the mistrust that we all see, and is well-documented, is there. It varies from community to community, and so it was interesting to see how I can be in one neighborhood and they have a really good officer who loves the community, serves the community, and that relationship is great. And just one neighborhood over, it’s a completely different idea where the community and police are totally separate and no one’s working together. It’s frustration on both hands.

Looking back on your life, have you had any negative interactions with the police that you think could’ve been handled better?

Not necessarily on my end. Luckily, I’ve had very, very few interactions with officers. I think there have been times when I’ve been pulled over when I probably wouldn’t have been, but I know even just seeing some of the things that my brothers went through, and cousins, it happens.

After the ride-along, what was the next step you wanted to make in terms of advocating for social change?

For me, my focus has kind of shifted. I’ve done a lot more things since the ride-along. What I’ve learned is that it’s not as simple as just bringing the community and police together. A lot of the brutality and a lot of the efforts of the police are really just a symptom of the justice system they’re on the front lines of. And so, you take for instance, back in the day, when you had the war on crime and war on drugs, these police officers were put in the position where that’s what they had to go execute. So you start seeing the profiling, the brutality, mass incarceration, all that stuff. A lot of times that frustration gets poured out on the police. But they’re just the front lines of a bigger system. They act in accordance with the policies and laws that govern them. So when you see the brutality, we don’t see any kind of accountability or repercussions for people losing their lives. It’s because the policies that they’re governed by allows it. So that’s where my focus has started to change, or get directed toward. How do we continue to work on the interactions or positive interactions between communities and police officers, but also make some real reform to the training and the criminal justice system in itself so we’re not devastating communities, we’re not targeting communities, but we’re certainly building it up?

Kaepernick’s convictions and bravery to just kind of take that step on his own not only sparked the conversation, but I think it kind of showed other athletes, not only NFL players, but other athletes, how big of a stage that we’re on.

Out of all the experiences you’ve had since the ride-along, which one has resonated with you the most?

We’ve been to D.C. We plan to go back to meet with members of Congress. That was a really eye-opening trip. I got the opportunity to talk to members of Sen. [Cory] Booker’s camp. I’ve spoken at UPenn’s law school. They did a symposium on hate speech vs. free speech. It’s just been something that a lot of people are discussing and talking about. So it’s really just trying to organize people. The biggest interaction that changed me was when we first went to D.C., because it just kind of showed me how far my reach is as an athlete. To be able to get meetings that the people who are actually doing work on the ground probably can’t get. Kind of broaden my scale of work as far was what I think I can help get accomplished, because my reach is far, I can get so many different meetings and the ear of people who make decisions.

Colin Kaepernick was credited for sparking a movement for social justice in the NFL last season. You continued the conversation in many ways. What do you think your role in this movement has been?

That’s not really much of my concern. I definitely think Kaepernick’s convictions and bravery to just kind of take that step on his own not only sparked the conversation, but I think it kind of showed other athletes, not only NFL players, but other athletes, how big of a stage that we’re on. How many people that we can reach if we so choose to use that platform. Then you saw myself and other guys around the league follow suit. I think everybody has a role in it. So right now, I’m trying to maximize the resources and information that I have to really help make some change, not just protesting and make a lot of noise, but to actually make some change.

Have you ever spoken Kaepernick about whether the goals each of you have aligned?

I gotta reach out to him soon. We talked back in season. We were kind of discussing some of the protests and things like that. We talked a couple times. But as we’re in the offseason now, I need to reach out to him. I’ve been following what he’s doing pretty closely, though. I know he started a ‘Know Your Rights’ Camp that he’s done on both the East Coast and the West Coast. He pledged to donate that million dollars. We’ll see where we can overlap and work together in some things.

Obviously we’re months away from the start of next season, but have you thought about whether or not you’ll continue to raise your fist before games?

I haven’t thought about it at all, actually. It’ll probably be something I think about as we get closer to the season to see what process we’ve made between then and now. That was the whole point — we didn’t like where we were as a country. So, I’ll evaluate that as we get closer to the season.

It’s hard to put a barometer on change when it comes to social justice. In your mind, what’s the end goal?

You just wanna see the beginning of a little bit of a change, right? For me, it starts with the criminal justice system and the issue of mass incarceration, because that in itself really causes, to me, a lot of issues, when you talk about people being stuck in the system, fathers and leaders of entire neighborhoods being incarcerated, especially African-American males that have been almost targeted by the system. Black people in general are only 13 percent of the population, but we make up 40 percent of the prison population. Those things, I think, when you get people out of jail, give them opportunities to vote, to do something, you give people a way to climb out of poverty. It’s not just letting people out, it’s also giving them opportunities in education, opportunities in the workplace. I think the first thing we need to do is stop locking people up at alarming rates, especially when the sentencing and the laws will heavily affect minority communities, especially the black community.