Buffalo Bills lineman Cameron Jefferson raised his fist during the national anthem before Thursday night’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles. It was the first time a member of the Bills had used the anthem as a platform since Colin Kaepernick made headlines a year ago.
Jefferson spoke at his locker after practice on Friday and shared his reasons for the statement. When he looked out and saw Eagles receiver Malcolm Jenkins with his fist in the air, and Jenkins’ teammate Chris Long responding in solidarity, it made Jefferson’s own feelings come to the surface.
"Going to Philly, I saw [Jenkins] across the field and I felt inspired to do the same and follow suit," Jefferson said, via newyorkupstate.com. "I feel like it's my duty as an athlete with my platform to do anything I can to help people in need against police brutality in the black and brown communities. I was already thinking about it but something in my gut and my spirit said, 'Go ahead, Cam. You can do it.’”
Jefferson and Jenkins are both part of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity; Jenkins at Ohio State and Jefferson at Arkansas. They had spoken before about the subject at a fraternity event. Now seeing his friend get support from his teammate, coupled with recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, Jefferson decided the time was right.
"It just put it in my mind even more," Jefferson said. "We already know what's going on. We already know what's happening around the nation. I'm not saying all police are bad, but the ones that are just doing an injustice to the people in the community that they're supposed to be serving and protecting. That's what we're fighting against."
Jefferson is fighting for a spot on the bottom edge of the Bills roster. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Chicago Bears in 2015 and spent time on the Denver Broncos practice squad but has never played in a regular season NFL game. He knows this could be a distraction not worth the time Bills coaches will have to spend discussing it and could impact his eventual employment, similar-but-different to what Kaepernick is going through right now.
"When you're doing the right thing and doing good, I feel like God's going to take care of you and protect you no matter what," explained Jefferson.
For his part, Jefferson is glad he’s not on the outskirts of the debate anymore.
"Kind of emotional because of the lives that are affected in the past, present and future as well," Jefferson said. "It was definitely a proud moment for myself and something that I can say, 'Hey I'm part of the movement now. I'm not on the sideline, not on the fence about it anymore.’"
No one from the Bills had spoken to Jefferson about it prior to his locker room comments on Friday. Head coach Sean McDermott said before the season that the team needed to “respect everyone’s beliefs” and left it at that because no Bills had performed a protest during the anthem.