Model for America? Left, right wing values coexist in Eagles locker room
How does the paradox of the Eagles' Super Bowl champion locker room reflect the better nature of our American ideals?
The story on the field was better than any Philadelphia has ever seen.
The Eagles, led by their back up quarterback and disrespected head coach, out dueled the evil Tom Brady and the Patriots in one of the best Super Bowls ever played.
And days later, more than a million fans flooded the City of Brotherly Love to share their joy with their returning heroes.
Philadelphia has the best team in the NFL — their play proved that fact and for the first time ever there will be a Lombardi Trophy living in the city.
But the Eagles may have had the best locker room in the NFL as well. And that is a big reason for the team's success.
"That locker room is a special locker room," Nick Foles, Super Bowl MVP, told the media just after winning 41-33 in Minneapolis, "and you can see it throughout the course of this game. No matter what happened, we just kept sticking together, kept leaning on each other. We have an amazing coaching staff, and amazing personnel staff. Just to be in this moment, unbelievable.”
It sounds simple. The Eagles had chemistry and they had a great locker room. But this isn't a high school locker room, bound by geography and common values and experiences. Of the 61 Eagles players who ended the season on the active roster or injured reserve, 21 were white and 40 were black. Those players attended colleges in more than 25 different states and had ages ranging from 21 to 37 years old.
Some players are Republicans, and some are Democrats.
Some, like Foles, are devout Christians and studying in seminary. Others, like Malcolm Jenkins, spent portions of the regular season protesting for racial equality. And yet, they came together and are Super Bowl champs. Both right wing Brietbart News ("It turns out that the Eagles are one of the more religious teams in the NFL") and left wing The Guardian ("Amid a renaissance of athlete activism, the NFC champions rate among the league leaders of the new social awareness.") have praised the off-the-field activities of Eagles players.
Champions for Christ
According to several Eagles players, Christian faith was the "binding force" in the locker room. A force that saw players baptize one another midseason, and contained praise to God following their Super Bowl title.
“All glory to God,” Foles said right after the win.
“I can only give the praise to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for giving me this opportunity," head coach Doug Pederson said.
“Glory to God first and foremost,” Zach Ertz said.
Players were not shy about their faith, as the principle contributors to the Eagles title win did not hide their views on religion. Publications all across the country have called the Eagles' locker room the most Christian in football. Carson Wentz, the Eagles' MVP candidate who was replaced by Foles after tearing his ACL, is the most vocally religious of them all.
His charitable foundation is called AO1, short for Army of One, a phrase that has adorned T-Shirts the QB has worn since entering the league in 2016. The phrase refers to God, and his foundation's mission statement says it intends to “demonstrate the love of God by providing opportunities and support for the less fortunate and those in need.”
Reading the above quotes would lead one, perhaps correctly to believe that many in the Eagles' locker room support right-wing political views. Right wing staple Ann Coulter has praised the Eagles locker room.
Which is interesting, because that same locker room was the center of debate with several players supplying unwavering support for left-wing issues.
Champions for minorities
Eagles safety Jenkins, the unheralded leader of the Philadelphia defense, held up one fist in protest. During the National Anthem for more than half the 2017 NFL season, cameras found Jenkins and other Eagles players, continuing a protest that stretched back to Colin Kaepernick's taking a knee in 2016. Jenkins wanted people to talk about how minorities are treated in the United States. He wanted his platform as an NFL star not to go wasted. He risked his job, as Kaepernick still remains blacklisted and unemployed.
And every time the Eagles held an open locker room, questions about Donald Trump, Kaepernick, protests and tweets followed him.
"Any player who is protesting will tell you the only reason we use the anthem is because it's a platform like no other," Jenkins, who has spent time riding along with Philly cops and lobbying the state legislature this past season, said. "We use it to draw attention to other issues. We have heard from many people to use a different venue and platform but quite frankly, this is the most effective one. Here we are. It's been a year a a half and it's still news at the top of every hour. We don't really enjoy doing this. We'd love to have a different platform and we think thats something we could work collaborative with the NFL to create."
After the deadly protest in Charlottesville, VA, University of Virginia alum Chris Long donated his entire paycheck for the season toward organizations that stand for "educational equality." He was nominated for the NFL's Man of the Year award.
The headlines are nothing new. In 2014 under then head coach Chip Kelly, racial issues were unavoidable. The Eagles had the whitest roster in the NFL and comments made by former wide receiver Riley Cooper at a country music concert made the locker room a hotbed for political questions. Kelly extended Cooper's contract, but would trade or cut several black stars like DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy.
Following the Eagles Super Bowl victory, just as members of the team were praising Christ, others were using the publicity to appear on CNN and talk about social issues — like Torrey Smith and Jenkins.
The White House
It doesn't look like many key Eagles will accept an invitation to visit the White House. Jenkins, Long and Smith flat out said they would not go.
"For me, it’s not just about politics," Smith said at Super Bowl media day. "If I told you that I was invited to a party by an individual I believe is sexist or has no respect for women or I told you that this individual has said offensive things towards many minority groups.… this individual also called my peers and my friends SOBs, you would understand why I wouldn’t want to go to that party. Why is it any different when the person has title of President of the United States?”
“Who were the fine people on the side of the Nazis and KKK that gathered in my hometown the day a terrorist put 20 people in the hospital?" Long asked. "Why reference the hatred and bigotry on ‘many sides that day’? Why didn’t you immediately denounce them? I already know the answer. None of that is political. I’m not interested in a dialogue with someone who I have to ask those questions of.”
And Jenkins said he was “not interested in a photo op” but would meet with Trump if he wanted to talk about the reasons he and others were protesting.
Will the entire team band together? Unconfirmed reports say the team will unite — as it has so many times before — and not accept an invitation. That is, if one is even given. Trump last year "took back" the annual invitation to the NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
A model for our country
There are no rifts between the two "factions" in the Eagles locker room. In fact, one of the most outspoken supporters of the National Anthem protests is Smith, who happens to be one of the most religious.
Smith said he was religious growing up but he became devout later in life.
“I went to church often growing up, but it wasn’t until I was in my last year of college where I realized I was kind of living off of everyone else’s salvation,” Smith in a video that boasted the Eagles' collective religious faith. “I wasn’t really finding out things on my own. I wasn’t diving into the Word or exploring that the way I was exploring everything else around me. That’s when I kind of realized I was living the wrong way.”
And the players in the middle of the spectrum? They respect their teammates.
"I've always stood for the National Anthem," Fletcher Cox said last fall. "I don't get into those things that everyone else gets into it, but I do support my teammates that do do things like that, they have good reasons for it."
With Trump's America dividing citizens more than ever before, it is often portrayed in the media that conservatives and liberals can't get along. They can't in Congress. They can't on cable news. And as many of us have experienced first hand, we can't get along at the Thanksgiving dinner table.
But the Eagles didn't care. Their purpose — winning — made every other distinguishing feature about them irrelevant. There was brotherly love, regardless of political view or religious observance.
Are Americans suddenly missing that shared purpose?