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Out Of Bounds: Philadelphia Eagles' Malcolm Jenkins On Criminal Justice Overhaul


Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins is known for his activism off the field and in the community.

MALCOLM JENKINS: Sports is something that transcends generations, transcends backgrounds, cultures, races. And so the power of sports is real. Now it's to the point where we're looking for solutions.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So this week, the NFL star went to Washington to try and persuade lawmakers to reform the criminal justice system. For today's edition of Out Of Bounds, we caught up with Jenkins right after one of his meetings on Capitol Hill.

JENKINS: I can create as many programs and mentorships and scholarships as I want, but it doesn't change the environment in which our youth are growing up in. And it started with kind of trying to address the relationship between police and these communities. And as I met with and sat with local police in Philadelphia, we came to a common consensus that, you know, there is reform that needs to happen in our policing but a lot of it is the frustration with our justice system.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What specifically are you asking for?

JENKINS: We want to see a change in our communities in the way we interact with police. And we also want to tackle criminal justice reform and deal with issues like mandatory minimum sentences that give way too much time for nonviolent drug offenses and that punishment being disproportionately pressed onto communities of color, especially the African-American community. So changing those things.

We've learned that prisons have cost us a lot of money. And that money is being wasted because it is not making our neighborhoods safer. Right now, two-thirds of those who are released from prison are rearrested within three years. And that's because we have a long list of restrictions that keep people from coming out of our prison system and becoming functional citizens - we discriminate against them when it comes to hiring and job opportunities, lose your government assistance, financial aid for schooling. But yet we're pressing these people to become positive productive citizens, and they're not allowed to.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is there a personal connection? I mean, do you know anyone who's been affected by these issues?

JENKINS: Yeah, my younger brother because of a small mistake that he made as a juvenile must carry a record with him for the rest of his life and has always struggled to get employment. And it's hard to find opportunities for him to be productive.

And I've constantly got to encourage him and stay after him to make sure that he doesn't make any mistakes because, quite honestly, the way the system is set up, it makes it harder for you to do the right thing than it is to do the wrong thing. And that's backwards.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How do you think your status as an athlete helps to get your message across to these politicians? I mean, does it help?

JENKINS: It does. I mean, what we realize is that we can get meetings that most people who advocate on these issues and, you know, who are doing the work, can't get. And so we try to use that leverage to step into these offices to advocate, to use our platforms to educate the public, you know, and lend our voices, you know, as best we can.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to ask about athletes becoming activists. The NFL hasn't always been an easy place for athletes to do political advocacy. Do you see that changing now?

JENKINS: I don't see the atmosphere of the NFL changing. I see the consciousness of the athlete changing. You're starting to see more and more athletes recognizing their reach and how much leverage and power that they have in their celebrity and in their platform. And more and more guys are trying to use that leverage to better their communities, to better this country and are speaking out on injustice.

And you have a new generation of a conscience athlete that knows that because of their ability and what they can do on the field or court, it gives them access. And with that access comes responsibility and that responsibility often falls on doing the right thing, especially for those who - we've either grown up with or came from the roots that we've come from. We have that responsibility to look out for those who haven't had the road and the success that we have.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: NFL player Malcolm Jenkins - he's a safety with the Philadelphia Eagles. He spoke to us from Capitol Hill where he met with lawmakers to push for criminal justice reform. Thank you so much for joining us.

JENKINS: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.