The National Football League’s Buffalo Bills were stunned by the retirement of wide receiver Anquan Boldin Monday. Less than two weeks after signing with the Bills as a free agent, the 14-year veteran, one of the most productive receivers in NFL history, envisioned a higher calling for himself beyond football.
The 36-year-old from Pahokee, Fla., whose list of achievements on the field include being 14th on the all-time receiving list (13,779) and Super Bowl champion (2012 season) as a member of the Baltimore Ravens, was moved by the riots in Charlottesville, Va. Aug. 11. And after deep reflection, Boldin made his unexpected decision and stated to ESPN reporter Jim Trotter that he is “drawn to make the larger fight for human rights a priority,” and that “my life’s purpose is bigger than football.”
The impact of the events in Charlottesville, in large part precipitated by a national tone of exclusion, misogyny, hegemony and racism amplified by President Donald Trump, has compelled many current athletes to carry out acts of demonstration, such as kneeling or sitting during the ceremonial playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before the start of sporting events.
Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Malcolm Jenkins continues to raise a clenched fist during the playing of “the Star-Spangled Banner”—reminiscent of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics—as he did for every regular season game last season, with the exception of the Eagles Week 1 game, which fell on Sept. 11.
“We wanted to make sure that we didn’t do anything to take away from the families that suffered from 9/11,” said Jenkins, explaining his deference.
Black athletes, who have been sports most active and visible dissenters, have been joined by a number of white athletes in a show of solidarity for social justice and equality for people of all genders and ethnicities.
Jenkins’ teammate, defensive end Chris Long, who was raised in Charlottesville and attended the University of Virginia, placed his left hand on the back of Jenkins during the playing of the national anthem before the start of the Eagles preseason game against the Bills Aug. 17. The son of Hall of Fame defensive lineman Howie Long has been uninhibitedly vocal in expressing his views on social issues.
“I’ve heard a lot of people say you need white athletes to get involved in the anthem protests,” said Long as reported by ESPN.com. “I’ve said before I’ll never kneel for an anthem, because the flag means something different for everybody in this country, but I support my peers.”
He continued, “And 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. So my thing is, Malcolm is a leader, and I’m here to show support as a white athlete.”
“I definitely appreciated that,” Jenkins said of Long’s empathy and accompaniment during an appearance on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” “and obviously it’s changed the dynamic of the whole conversation.”
In an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio, Boldin said his enlightenment, leading him to leave behind the game for which he has a profound attachment, was somewhat unforeseen.
“…I think for me there’s something bigger than football at this point,” said the Florida State alumnus. “And it’s kind of shocking for me to say that because… I can remember as a kid wanting to get to the NFL… and I never thought anything would take the place of that passion. But for me, it has.”