Anthem activism: Eagles' Jenkins protests to support Sen. Scott Wagner bill

David Weissman
York Dispatch

York County's state senators this week criticized NFL players' protests during the national anthem, but Sen. Scott Wagner unknowingly has the support of one of those players.

Malcolm Jenkins, a safety for the Philadelphia Eagles, has been raising his fist in the air during the pre-game singing of the national anthem since the beginning of the season.

Before the season started, Jenkins and retired NFL receiver Anquan Boldin, who played three seasons for the Baltimore Ravens, posted a video expressing why they would be holding these demonstrations.

Philadelphia Eagles players, owner Jeffrey Lurie, Eagles' President Don Smolenski, and a Philadelphia police officer, stand for the national anthem before an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017, in Philadelphia. Eagles' Malcolm Jenkins, No. 27, raises his fist next to Lurie. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

"This season, I'll be raising my fist to take a stand for racial equality and a much-needed reform to our criminal justice system," Jenkins said in the video.

Jenkins goes on to state that one of those reforms he's fighting for is "Clean Slate" legislation in Pennsylvania.

Clean Slate: The legislation he's referring to is Senate Bill 529 — introduced by Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, and Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Delaware and Philadelphia counties — which seeks to make Pennsylvania the nation's first state to automatically seal criminal records for minor, nonviolent offenses.

The "Clean Slate" bill would create a process by which nonviolent misdemeanor convictions are automatically sealed after a person has gone 10 years without any additional violations. Records of alleged crimes where no conviction was attained would also be sealed under this legislation.

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It would not apply to certain offenses, including crimes involving firearms, sexual offenders and cruelty to animals.

The bill unanimously passed out of the state Senate in June and currently sits in the House Judiciary Committee.

Jenkins did not respond to a list of questions submitted by The York Dispatch through a spokeswoman who manages his criminal justice reform work.

Wagner said he hadn't heard about Jenkins' support for his bill, though the gubernatorial candidate did post a message on his campaign website this week urging all Americans to stand during the national anthem.

Scott Wagner speaks at a campaign tour kickoff at one of his Penn Waste facilities Monday, July 10, 2017. During the next four to six weeks, Wagner is planning stops across the state to bolster his gubernatorial run. Bill Kalina photo

"It can only be out of tragic misconception about what the flag and the national anthem symbolize that one could fathom the idea of rejecting them," Wagner wrote in his message. "The flag is not a symbol of American policy or culture but of the massive cost and sacrifice that gives us the freedom to change those things."

Protests: The protests began last season with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick at first sitting and then kneeling during the national anthem.

When asked why he wasn't standing, Kaepernick said he refused to show pride in the flag of a country that oppresses people of color and specifically pointed to recent police shootings of black people.

"There is no debate that America has equality issues and that we have much work to do," Wagner said in his message. "But we are an exceptional nation because we self-correct. We are not where we need to be, but we are on the way — only because we have the freedom to make it happen."

FILE - In this Sunday Sept. 24, 2017 file photo, Baltimore Ravens players, including former player Ray Lewis, second from right, kneel down during the playing of the U.S. national anthem before an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium in London. Joey Odoms, a combat veteran who has been the Ravens' national anthem singer for the past three years, announced his resignation as debate continues about players kneeling during the national anthem.

Many other NFL players have since joined Kaepernick's protest in some way, and the protests moved to the front of the national landscape last weekend, when President Donald Trump urged NFL owners to fire players who protest.

“That’s a total disrespect of our heritage," Trump said during a campaign rally in Alabama. "That’s a total disrespect of everything that we stand for.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired,” Trump said, to loud applause.

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NFL players, coaches and owners mostly responded with larger protests Sunday, Sept. 24.

Condemnation: On Monday, Sept. 25, Sen. Mike Regan, R-Dillsburg, announced in a news release that he would be introducing a Senate resolution condemning the "anti-American demonstrations that occurred this weekend" in the NFL.

"What we witnessed throughout the NFL this weekend was not an innocuous political demonstration," Regan said in the release. "It was not a harmless exercise of First Amendment rights. It was a deliberate, orchestrated effort to disrespect the anthem and flag of the United States of America, and it cannot go unrebuked."

Senator Mike Regan, R-Carroll Township, center, poses with daughters Brooke, 16, left, and Shea, 21, prior to swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Nine-year Army veteran Jose Velez, who now attends Harrisburg Area Community College, said he believes condemning the NFL players is a terrible use of government's time.

"The government shouldn't be involved in celebrity politics," he said.

Velez added that he also believes a state senator condemning the players' actions would also inherently be condemning their freedom to protest.

When the protests first started, Velez said, he was one of those people urging those players to leave the country if they chose to disrespect the flag, but he has since realized that was an unintelligent argument.

"Freedom of speech should be placed above all else, including our ego," he said. "You can't force patriotism."

Velez said he still believes the protests are misdirected because the flag stands for everyone, but he acknowledges that they're also "genius" in a way because they've gotten so much attention, which was the desired effect.

— Reach David Weissman at or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.