Two men standing.
Two men standing for our National Anthem.
Two men standing for our National Anthem, One with a raised fist. Another with his arm around his teammate.
An image, and a powerful one at that. Wherever you land on the political spectrum you can see that Chris Long stands in a rare light. Many veterans on their third team in three years might be laying low, getting a feel for their new team and fellow players. Not Chris Long. Always an outspoken leader, even when playing in the relative obscurity of the St. Louis, Missouri.
When the Patriots were scouring the free agent market for veteran defensive ends following the unceremonious shipping out of Chandler Jones to Arizona, he was on my short list. Sure, he might be a little injury prone and looong in the tooth (pun delightfully intended). The next in the lengthy and distinguished group of veteran ring chasers to pass through Foxboro. So what if he’s played only as a 4-3 pass rusher in his entire career. I was sure that he was going to help propel the team to its next Super Bowl win.
It didn’t quite work out that way. We got the ring and the team got the glory. From day one Chris seemed to have memorized Bill Belichick’s guide to media relations. Learning the playbook and executing on the field was another matter. Rarely did he rush the passer and even more rarely did he do it with his hand in the dirt. He Practiced the Patriot Way and dutifully dropped back in coverage. He produced few exciting and standout plays. His presence was felt more than just on the field.
Long on talent…and humor
In a moment of levity during the bye week, in the aftermath of the incredible Jaime Collins trade there was a strange Edelman-mask wearing player in the locker room giving interviews. Five inches taller, 50 pounds heavier and the distinctive sleeves of tattoos should have been an immediate tell. But there was something disconcerting in the accurately creepy mask, the off kilter red hat and the constant brahs with the multiple headphones. Still when the Patriots Nation was abuzz with tension and concern, Chris managed to turn the mood into lightheartedness and laughter.
When the season ended after the victory over 28-3 Falcons you got to see what kind of a man Chris Long truly is. Repeatedly told by fans and foes alike that he should go on the White House visit he delivered thoughtful and polite answers each time. They culminated with this:
“(When) my son grows up — and I believe the legacy of our president is going to be what it is — I don’t want him to say, ‘Hey Dad, why’d you go when you knew the right thing was to not go?'” Long said.
He also delivered on explanations even when they were not necessary. In an Instagram post early in free agency, he made it very clear he would not be returning to the Patriots. Manufactured sincerity is very easy to find today, and yet you truly believed him when he said that it had zero to do with money. Instead he laid out various reasons and thanked all his fans. He didn’t need to do this, he came on a one year deal, played okay and won a championship ring. If not expected, it was at least not a shock that this is the way it went. Still, it was sad to see him go.
Not Backing Down
The recent events in Charlottesville, VA have thrust issues of race relations and protesting into worldwide news, and forced us all to ask tough questions of ourselves. None more so than Chris, an alumni of UVA – the site of much of the upheaval and protests over a statue of Robert E. Lee. The statue was merely a lightning rod that became a focal point when people began rioting, beating and eventually killing each other over slogans and ideals that should not have a place in this country.
“You know that subculture exists in our country, and it has in our country for a long time, but when they all get together in one place — especially your hometown — it really bothers you,” he said.
And when asked a question he responded with his usual conviction and respect. “People are asking me, ‘Why Charlottesville?’ ” Long said. “Look, Charlottesville is taking the right steps to accommodate the sensitivities of people who might feel offended by statues and parks named after Confederate generals. I think that is very reasonable. I don’t know what it’s like to walk past a statue like that, as a minority. We’re doing the right thing.”
There has been much blowback regarding activism by popular sports figures. Shouting a battle cry of “stick to sports”, mainly by people not wanting to face these questions and thoughts. I for one, am happy that Chris Long is not sticking to sports over this.