The Eagles and Patriots aren’t just different on the field.
The two franchises also seem to come from polar opposite ends of the political spectrum, too, setting up a clash between one of the most socially conscious teams in the NFL — and President Trump’s favorite football franchise.
Not long ago, Patriots QB Tom Brady displayed a “Make America Great Again” hat in his locker. Trump considers owner Bob Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick close friends, too, and Kraft was one of the most generous among Trump-friendly NFL owners, forking over $1 million to help fund his inauguration.
Trump also let the cat out of the bag in 2016 when he bragged about a letter Belichick wrote him during the campaign.
“Our friendship goes back many years and I think anybody that’s spent more than five minutes with me knows I’m not a political person,” Belichick said at the time. “The comments are not politically motivated, I have a friendship and loyalty to Donald.
Players kneel during the national anthem
“(A) couple of weeks ago, we had Secretary of State (John) Kerry in our locker room. That’s another friend of mine. I can’t imagine two people with more different political views than those two, but to me friendship and loyalty is just about that. It’s not about political or religious views.
“I write hundreds of letters and notes every month,” he said. “Doesn’t mean I agree with every single thing that every person thinks about politics, religion or other subjects. I have multiple friendships that are important to me. That’s what that was about. It’s not about politics, it’s about football. We’ve got a huge game this week against a great football team and a great organization …”
Contrasting with New England’s deep Trump ties, the Eagles have emerged as one of, if not the most socially active team in the NFL. They have been referred to as “the wokest” team in the league.
The differences between the two teams are striking. While Kraft is a close Trump friend and supporter, Eagles owner Jeff Lurie earned a doctorate in social policy from Brandeis University. Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins helped to found the Players Coalition and took his Trump-defying anthem demonstrations well beyond the field to work with cops, politicians and convicts on criminal justice reforms.
Jenkins’ work with the Players Coalition helped to secure an almost $100 million pledge by the NFL to fund community programs. His off-field work made Jenkins a finalist for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award for charity work.
Chris Long, another outspoken activist in the Eagles’ locker room, played for free this season. He donated his entire salary to fund educational opportunities and, just like last year when he won it with the Pats, he’s said he won’t attend a Super Bowl celebration at the White House. Long also broke the color line and became the first white player to participate in the anthem demonstrations when he put a hand on Jenkins’ shoulder during “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Jenkins, Long and Torrey Smith traveled to Harrisburg this season to meet with state lawmakers on criminal justice reforms. They have also attended bail hearings to get a better idea of how the system can be unfair to poor minorities.
When Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill was locked up in the fall for a probation violation, a case that got national attention as an example of what’s wrong with the system, several Eagles, including Jenkins, Smith, Vinny Curry, Jalen Mills and Wendell Smallwood, all attended a protest in Mill’s support.
During the Eagles’ playoff run, Lane Johnson has been selling underdog t-shirts on his website and he’s donating all the money to cash-strapped Philadelphia public schools. When the NFL tried selling similar shirts, Johnson and Long shamed the league into donating all the money it collected to Philly schools, too.
Every team in the league does a lot of work in the community. The Patriots are no different. Safety Devin McCourty has been active in the Players Coalition and has done work with Kraft’s son, team president Jonathan Kraft, to gain a better understanding of important social issues.
But for all the work the Patriots and the rest of the NFL are doing, the Eagles and Jenkins, especially, stand out from the crowd.
“I think he’s been incredible just for the fact that he put so much time in,” McCourty said. “He just had a daughter I think a week ago. He’s still on phone calls, he’s still being leader of the coalition. So it’s been great to me almost for a year now to link on with those guys — him and Anquan (Boldin), what they’ve started.
“I think that for a lot of us it’s just being able to add to it and bring whatever our passions and feeling are to it from what he’s already started.”
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