History will remember the 2017 NFL season for national anthem demonstrations for racial equality and the divisive political debate that erupted in response. But in Philadelphia, beyond tying the franchise's best record and earning the top playoff spot in the NFC, Eagles fans will remember this season for a special bond between a pair of truly selfless and inspiring teammates.
Defensive end Chris Long, a veteran offseason acquisition for the Eagles, wanted to show support for his new teammates before a preseason matchup against the Buffalo Bills. During the national anthem, he put his arm around strong safety Malcolm Jenkins, who had his fist raised in the air for social equality. That viral moment brought unity to a locker room that rippled throughout the culturally and ideologically diverse Philadelphia region.
A week prior to that game, a white nationalist rally in Long's hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia, turned deadly when a Nazi sympathizer rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one and injuring several others. In response, Long announced he would donate his first six game checks of the season to fund scholarships in Charlottesville.
"In August, we watched people fill our hometown streets with hatred and bigotry," said Long in a press release. "[My wife] Megan and I decided to try to combat those actions with our own positive investment in our community."
In October, Long announced he would donate his remaining 10 game checks to help underserved youth in the three cities he played for: Philadelphia, Boston, and St. Louis. This move generated national attention, including praise from a former president.
Chris Long gave his paychecks from the first six games of the NFL season to fund scholarships in Charlottesville, VA. He wanted to do more, so he decided to give away an entire season's salary. That's a story from 2017. https://t.co/NL0RoARkan-- Barack Obama (@BarackObama) December 29, 2017
Jenkins did some praiseworthy work off the field too. In 2017, the Malcolm Jenkins Foundation surpassed $100,000 in scholarships awarded to graduating high school seniors, nearly half being first-generation college students.
The foundation, committed to bringing positive change to youth in underserved communities, holds events and initiatives throughout the year in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Louisiana, and Ohio. Beyond his charitable work, Jenkins has emerged as a community leader in Philadelphia, working to build trust and understanding between the city's law enforcement and the communities they serve and protect.
"It's important for ... professional athletes to use their platform for more than themselves, more than the monetary gains, but to really make an impact," said Jenkins in a video released by the Eagles. "The first thing I did was bring community leaders to the table with law enforcement here in Philadelphia, and we just had a conversation. That conversation led me to doing ride-alongs with the police ... to get an in-depth look at what they were going through."
Spreading Unity and Generosity in the Workplace
Long and Jenkins are already winners this season, having donated their time and money to change lives and improve the communities they love. Their symbolic preseason embrace, in the face of divisive political rhetoric, brought the team and its fan base together ahead of what became one of their winningest regular seasons.
In that same spirit, it's important, as business leaders, to show your team you stand for values that go beyond the bottom line. By aligning with positive community and charitable initiatives, you can unite your team and help them overcome workplace and personal differences alike.
Community engagement and charitable giving provide employees with a greater sense of meaning in the work they do, and they can even help attract and retain talent drawn to those causes. A 2016 poll conducted by Morning Consult for Fortune found that almost two-thirds of respondents between the ages of 18 and 34 were more likely to want to work for a company that gives to charity than one that doesn't.
You don't necessarily have to donate your entire salary to unite and inspire your team. These two Eagles proved that weaving community values into your organizational culture can produce winning results.