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New England Patriots free safety Devin McCourty during an NFL AFC divisional playoff football game against the Tennessee Titans in January in Foxborough, Mass.
Feature

The First Ever Marshall Project Guide to the Super Bowl

A criminal justice matchup

We at the Marshall Project won’t be covering the Super Bowl because, well, that’s not our mission. We don’t know each team’s third-down conversion rate, nor can we provide you with an edge that will help you win your Super Bowl pool.

What we can do is look at the game through the binoculars of criminal justice. In a contentious season marked by player activism, speaking out – or taking a knee – against racism and police violence, we found several players who have been in the protest spotlight.

It may be true, as Dave Zirin noted in The Nation, that with a few historical exceptions sporting teams “are products to be sold, not political totems.” But he tossed off that caveat in a long essay arguing that it’s okay for liberals to back the Patriots even though they are perceived as part of Team Trump.

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So which players have been the most vocal on the issues we cover?

The Philadelphia Eagles Malcolm Jenkins
Height 6-foot-4
Weight 204 pounds
Age 30
College Ohio State University
Hometown Piscataway, NJ
Experience 9 seasons
Position Safety
2017 statistics:

76 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 2 interceptions

Highlights (on the field):

Jenkins, a top 100 player, was named to his second Pro Bowl this season. Pro Football Focus named him the top strong safety in the league in 2015. From the team: “A dynamic playmaker at the safety position, Malcolm Jenkins signed with Philadelphia on the first day of free agency in 2014 and has emerged as a pillar in the Eagles locker room. Originally selected by the Saints with the 14th-overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, Jenkins has been named to the Pro Bowl twice since joining the Eagles (2016 & 2018), becoming just the fifth safety in team history to earn multiple Pro Bowl berths.”

Highlights (off the field):

Threw his right fist into the sky in a symbol of black power during the national anthem this season. Finalist for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award for volunteer and charity work. Co-founded the Players Coalition of NFL players interested in erasing racial prejudice and improving the criminal justice system. Jenkins led about 40 players in discussions and negotiations with the NFL over the protest controversies. Was among five players who went to Capitol Hill to discuss criminal justice reform with lawmakers. Went on a ride-along with the Philadelphia police and met with the police commissioner. Drove up to Harrisburg with Long and Smith to lobby for the Clean Slate Act in Pennsylvania. All three players, as well as the Eagles team owner, support the federal Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017. Donated a Super Bowl ticket to Kempis Songster, a 45-year-old who had been imprisoned for 30 years for committing murder as a teenager.

Chris Long
Height 6-foot-3
Weight 270 pounds
Age 32
College University of Virginia
Hometown Santa Monica, Calif.
Experience 10 seasons
Position Defensive End
2017 statistics:

28 tackles, 5 sack, 4 forced fumbles

Highlights (on the field):

Won the Super Bowl last year as a member of the New England Patriots. Son of Hall of Fame defensive end and television commentator Howie Long and brother of current NFL offensive lineman Kyle Long. From the team: “Chris Long was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles to a two-year contract on March 31, 2017, after spending the 2016 season with the Super Bowl LI-winning New England Patriots. Originally selected by the St. Louis Rams with the 2nd overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, Long has compiled 430 tackles (272 solo), 83 TFL, 63.5 sacks, 12 PDs, 13 FFs and 6 FRs in 146 career regular-season games (103 starts).”

Highlights (off the field):

Put an arm around Malcolm Jenkins’ shoulder during the national anthem this season as a symbol of his support for black players taking a stand on social justice issues. Didn’t go to the White House with Patriots to celebrate last year’s Super Bowl win because of feelings toward Trump, and has pledged not to attend again if Eagles win championship this year. Donated his entire NFL salary this year to scholarships in his hometown of Charlottesville, Va., and a campaign his foundation started that encourages people to donate for equal educational opportunities for youth. The campaign has raised $1.3 million.

Torrey Smith
Height 6-foot
Weight 205 pounds
Age 29
College University of Maryland
Hometown Richmond, Va.
Experience 7 seasons
Position Wide Reciver
2017 statistics:

36 receptions, 430 yards, 11.9 yards per catch average, 2 touchdowns

Highlights (on the field):

As a Baltimore Raven, won the Super Bowl in 2013 over Colin Kaepernick’s San Francisco 49ers. From the team: “Torrey Smith was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles to a three-year contract on March 10, 2017, following a two-year stint with the San Francisco 49ers. Originally selected by the Ravens in the 2nd round (58th overall) of the 2011 NFL Draft, Smith was a member of Baltimore’s Super Bowl XLVII-winning team. The seventh-year wideout has totaled 302 catches for 4,951 yards (16.5 avg.) and 39 TDs in 108 career games, while posting 522 yards and 5 TDs on 28 receptions (18.6 avg.) in 10 career postseason contests. Since 2011, ranks 3rd in the NFL in yards per reception (16.4).”

Highlights (off the field):

Remains committed to helping underprivileged in the city of Baltimore in various charity efforts even though he no longer plays there. Lobbied Pennsylvania legislators with Long and Jenkins to pass criminal justice reform bills. Along with Jenkins, authored memo asking NFL to set aside a month dedicated to social activism in the same fashion it commemorates cancer awareness and other causes. Outspoken on major societal issues such as confederate flag, same-sex marriage and racial profiling

The New England Patriots Devin McCourty
Height 5-foot-10
Weight 195 pounds
Age 30
College Rutgers University
Hometown Montvale, N.J.
Experience 8 seasons
Position Safety
2017 statistics:

97 tackles, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery, 1 sack

Highlights (on the field):

Has been named defensive team captain seven times. Three-time Pro Bowler. Is one of only three players who have earned All-Pro honors at both safety and cornerback joining Pro Football Hall of Famers Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott.

Highlights (off the field):

One of the original players invited to meetings with owners over player protests. McCourty, along with teammates Johnson Bademosi, Matthew Slater and Duron Harmon and team president Jonathan Kraft stopped by Harvard Law School along with Massachusetts criminal justice experts earlier this year for a “listen and learn” day featuring panels on inequities in the criminal justice system. “I believe it is my responsibility to be in the forefront to create change and a better life for others,” he said at the event. “It’s an honor to serve people who don’t always have a voice. I’ve been able to listen and learn about the challenging life stories from multiple people, which has inspired me to help more, try to spread these anecdotes and encourage others to get involved.”

Martellus Bennett
Height 6-foot-6
Weight 275 pounds
Age 30
College Texas A&M University
Hometown Taylor, Texas
Experience 10 seasons
Position Tight end
2017 statistics:

30 receptions, 286 yards

Highlights (on the field):

Played in just two games for the Patriots because of injury after being cut from the Green Bay Packers roster. A member of the Patriots’ Super Bowl champion team last season. Earned a Pro Bowl selection after the 2013 season for which he set single-season Chicago Bears franchise record for receptions by a tight end. Was one of several Patriots players who did not attend a White House invitation after the Super Bowl victory.

Highlights (off the field):

Spoke out in support of his brother, Michael Bennett, a defensive end for the Seattle Seahawks, when Michael alleged that Las Vegas police racially profiled him, taking him to the ground and holding him at gunpoint, while they searched for a shooter who had opened fire after a boxing match. (The Las Vegas police say profiling had nothing to do with the detention; they were acting lawfully trying to sort out a chaotic and dangerous scene.) In the days afterward, Bennett heard critics telling athletes such as him to “stick to sports.” He responded with a political cartoon.

An earlier version of this story misspelled Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania.