Free agent running back (and Dancing With The Stars champion) Rashad Jennings has been an active force in his community when it comes to addressing social and racial inequality. But last year, when Jennings was still on the Giants, he did not kneel during the national anthem because he believed the form of the protest would undermine the message.

And that’s basically what has happened. The protests have been framed as an issue of patriotism and respect, or lack thereof, for the flag and the military than about police brutality and racial inequality. And in response, hundreds of NFL players kneeled or made a gesture of solidarity during the anthem last week in unity against Donald Trump’s scathing comments about NFL players rather than in protest of social injustice.

Here’s what Jennings told For The Win on Friday about the protests losing their focus:

“Yeah, when I said that, I meant it. And I thought it out. I didn’t say it on a whim. I care. I’m a community guy. I’m about that life. I’m about making change, and I’m about making a difference. It has lost its message. Unfortunately, it’s continuing to lose a little bit of the focus of the message.

I’m hopeful, though.

If you go back and look at everything I said, Day 1, before Kap even took a knee, I was in the community taking meetings with Corey Booker, the New Jersey senator, and the sheriff in New York. My words or my thoughts on the topic have not changed once since that day.”

I’d still love to see a poll on what percentage of Americans know the movement’s actual message. Even guys in the NFL seem to have lost sight of the original goal.

In August, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he supports players who choose to protest in “a battle for racial equality.” Rodgers still supports the protests, but after Thursday night’s win over the Bears he called the movement “an invitation to show unity in the face of some divisiveness from the top,” meaning Trump.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who donated $1 million to Trump’s campaign, took a knee as well before the team’s game against the Cardinals, but many saw it as a half-hearted, insincere effort. Jones kneeled before the anthem and then stood up when the song was actually played.

Jennings supported how Jones handled the situation:

“I think Jerry was just saying ‘I’m with the oppressed.’ And ‘I’m with the cause.’ But he’s also wanting to show his respect for the flag in a way that’s not going to ruffle any feathers.

Speaking of what Jerry did, I was in a group text with 66 guys across the league. One of the things we were saying is that if you do something, do it in unity and not directly during the national anthem. Either something before it or after. That’s what Jerry actually did.”

Jennings also touched on Odell Beckham Jr.’s Peeing Dog touchdown celebration from Week 3, which earned him a 15-yard penalty. Here’s the celebration — a veiled response to Trump’s “son of a bitch” comment —  in case you missed it:

For all the barbs Beckham gets about being a self-obsessed player, Jennings stood by his former teammate:

“There are times where anything can look selfish, but we don’t — I had the privilege of being his teammate. I saw him come in as a rookie. I saw him when he was hurt for the first four games. I remember him coming up to me and saying ‘Hey, Rashad, will you teach me how to take care of my body?’ I’ve seen him grow from ‘Who is this guy?’ to like ‘Who is this guy?’ I’ve seen that whole transformation. He’s not a selfish guy. He’s a team player. He’s a passionate guy. Nobody in that locker room looks at him like he’s selfish. He just wants to win.”

[For The Win]

About Jesse Kramer

Jesse is a writer and editor for The Comeback. He has also worked for and runs The Catch and Shoot, a college basketball website based in Chicago. He is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Follow Jesse on Twitter @Jesse_Kramer.