Jim Souhan
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Strange. Coulda sworn I saw Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Long in the Twin Cities the past two days.

This can’t be. We’ve been told by football bosses for decades that their players must be “focused” and avoid “distractions” to win.

Yet here are two key players for the team that beat the Vikings by 31 points in the NFC title game with a backup quarterback, two outspoken, socially conscious defensive players who helped shut out the Vikings offense for the last 55 minutes of that game, and their team is neither shunning nor shushing them.

“Distraction,” Long said, “is code for ‘I don’t agree with what you’re talking about.’ ”

Exactly. When fans tell anyone to keep politics out of sports, what they mean is keep politics they don’t agree with away from their tender ears.

This has been a stunning year in the NFL in terms of player action, reaction and forced inaction.

Colin Kaepernick couldn’t find a job in a league where he could have started for many teams. He instead spent his time donating and raising money for charities and social justice programs.

The Bills Mafia fan group rewarded Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton for helping their team to the playoffs by donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to his favorite charity, spurring a wave of similar movements around the league, including Vikings fans supporting Saints punter Thomas Morstead’s good works.

Long donated his base salary of $1 million this season toward educational equality and scholarships, and he said Monday that Eagles fans matched his donations. He also said he would not visit the White House if invited by President Donald Trump.

Jenkins originally disagreed with Kaepernick’s strategy of kneeling during the national anthem to protest unjustified police shootings. Jenkins correctly feared that Kaepernick’s protest would be misinterpreted as an insult to the military.

Jenkins would become known for raising his fist in protest during the anthem — with Long sometimes placing his arm around Jenkins in support — but only after Jenkins, from a military family, sought the counsel of military veterans.

He also met with the Philadelphia Police Department, engaged team owner Jeffrey Lurie, and helped form the Players Coalition, which negotiated with the NFL to channel a reported $89 million of league money to social justice causes.

The coalition has splintered, with some players reportedly wanting to follow Jenkins’ lead and push for change and others more worried about Kaepernick’s continuing unemployment.

“There are times to make our voices heard,” Jenkins said. “We were able to take Jeffrey Lurie into the community and show what is plaguing us, show him why we were protesting. The Patriots recently did the same thing in Boston.

“I think it’s a process of educating ownership and the people from the league office as to why we’ve been so passionate about these issues, but also showing them how the NFL, with this huge platform, can play a real role in changing our society.”

Somehow, Jenkins and Long have managed to remember their play calls while doing all of this distracting stuff like caring about humans and country.

“Listen, a lot of players across the league have given their time to causes off the field,” Long said. “On good and bad teams. I don’t think there’s a correlation between doing what you think is right, spending time on causes, and winning and losing. Guys around this league have always been active in their communities.

“I know Malcolm cares a great deal about our country and the things he’s lending his influence to.”

Tom Brady is married to a supermodel and runs his own business. LeGarrette Blount was dumped by the Steelers for insubordination and after getting caught smoking marijuana. Rob Gronkowski acts like Rob Gronkowski. Somehow, the three managed to win Danny Amendola’s weight in Super Bowl rings.

Please, never again tell me that any NFL player is a distraction or can’t excel because of distractions.

It’s a word losers use as an excuse or to avoid activating their brains.

Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com