Malcolm Jenkins returns to Philadelphia with legacy on his mind

PHILADELPHIA -- Sunday's game between the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints (1 p.m. ET, Fox) reunites safety Malcolm Jenkins with the City of Brotherly Love.

Not that he ever really left.

Jenkins, who signed a four-year, $32 million deal with the Saints in March 2020 following a six-year run with the Eagles, lives in Philadelphia during the offseason. His brick and mortar designer suit store, Damari, is here. His hometown of Piscataway, New Jersey, is just over an hour trek up I-95.

All three of Jenkins' Pro Bowl seasons were in an Eagles uniform, including 2017, when he helped deliver the city its first ever Super Bowl title. This is where he first raised a fist during the national anthem in protest of social injustice, and found his footing as an activist and as a leader.

"I was able to show my authentic self, and realize the fan base really connected with who I was," Jenkins told ESPN. "So I got a chance to be my complete, unfiltered self. And there was a reciprocity to it all. The more I gave to the city, the more the city gave to me. You don't really find that too many times as an athlete or just a human being in general. It's a connection that I cherish and was huge for my life."

On Thursday, Jenkins is releasing his non-fungible token (NFT) collection, titled "A Minted Legacy," which is a digital ode to his time in Philadelphia. Two of the three NFTs, created with multimedia artist Soulajit, are football-related. One, titled "Dream Chaser," centers around his crushing hit on former Patriots receiver Brandin Cooks in Super Bowl LII while the other, "Forever Champs," zeroes in on Jenkins' on-field rivalry with quarterback Tom Brady. Jenkins is one of few defenders with his fair share of success against Brady, including two interceptions returned for touchdowns.

"When you talk about the story of that [2017] season -- losing [quarterback] Carson [Wentz], having to go through what we had to go through, being an underdog, and then to have to go into the stadium and play the greatest quarterback of all time, who's stacking up rings like pancakes, it's the cherry on top," Jenkins said. "That's a big part of it is what made it so special .... It wasn't no slop quarterback out there. That was the best of all time."

The third NFT, titled "Heavy," was created with United Kingdom artist DINES and is focused on Jenkins' social justice work. This season marks the five-year anniversary of Jenkins first raising a fist during the national anthem, following the lead of former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Jenkins quickly developed into one of the leaders of the NFL players' off-the-field social justice movement. He co-founded the Players Coalition to help coordinate the efforts of those passionate about social change, while making multiple trips to Capitol Hill to speak with politicians about mass incarceration and police brutality. A portion of the proceeds from this NFT will be donated to the Malcolm Jenkins Foundation to support the development of its Digital Education Academy to offer both college and non-college bound students exposure to a variety of career paths with the aim of helping to close the racial wealth gap.

"The same way I can look at John Carlos and Tommie Smith, and I have that painting of them standing on that Olympic podium in '68, and that moment is one that stands the test of time, and especially through photography and art, that's how that moment stays," Jenkins said. "Looking at how I do that for my own legacy, this NFT space creates a huge opportunity.

"We're only five years away and you recognize how significant those moments were, that we stayed steadfast, that we stood on what we believed in, and spoke up. And those early moments really inspired millions of others to follow suit. We still have a long way to go as far as the work is being done, but when you talk about moments in history that can be catalysts to inspire the next generation to go a bit further, it's not far-fetched to say that moment, that year, was one of those moments."

Jenkins is the latest NFL player to enter the NFT space, joining the likes of Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski, who sold a set of digital trading cards for a reported $1.2 million. In September, the NFL and NFL Players Association reached a deal to authorize Dapper Labs to create unique digital video NFTs of the top plays in a season and also in league history.

"When you start to see other athletes get into it like Gronk and Patrick Mahomes, it becomes a really interesting space on, as an athlete, how you can own more of your own likeness and really connect directly to your fans without going through a third party or institutions that we've always had access to," Jenkins said. "And then there's this community of digital artists that are finding their own space to create some really cool pieces of art, and you have this intersection of technology as well.

"To me, it's about cementing some of the legacy that I built."