Last Sunday, Carolina Panthers’ safety Eric Reid intercepted a pass from Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick early in the game between divisional rivals. He tacked on a 39-yard return into the red zone, which set the tone for what would turn out to be a Panthers offensive explosion.
In the locker room after the dominating victory, head coach Ron Rivera presented Reid with the game ball, and his teammates erupted in cheers. It was, undoubtedly, a big moment for Reid. He spent the first four weeks of the NFL season unemployed, as teams were seemingly hesitant to sign him because of his ongoing protest of police brutality and racial injustice during the national anthem.
But it was also a bittersweet moment for the 26-year-old. Because while he has found a new home with the Panthers, his good friend Colin Kaepernick is still being blackballed.
“I’m happy to be able to help the Panthers win, but until (Kaepernick) gets back in the league, I can’t be wholly happy,” Reid told ESPN.
It’s not surprising that Reid used what was a big moment for him personally to make sure the spotlight found Kaepernick and the movement he ignited, as well. He has done that every step of the way since arriving in Charlotte.
— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) November 4, 2018
In his first press conference with the Panthers, Reid wore a t-shirt emblazoned with a big “#IMWITHKAP” on the front, signaling his continued solidarity with Kaepernick, and promised that his collusion lawsuit against the NFL would continue. (He and Kaepernick are both suing team owners for colluding to keep them out of the league due to their protest.)
Then, when asked about the meaning behind his protest, Reid gave reporters — in the south, mind you — an education on historical systemic oppression.
“Next year will be 2019. It will mark 400 years since the first slaves touched the soil of this country. That’s 400 years of systemic oppression,” Reid said.
“That’s slavery, Jim Crow, new Jim Crow, mass incarceration, you name it. The Great Depression — they come out with the New Deal, and black people didn’t have access to those government stimulus packages. The New Deal set up what is known as the modern-day middle class. We didn’t have access to those programs, the GI Bill, social security, home loans, none of that. So this has been happening since my people have gotten here. And so, I just felt the need to say something about it.”
Reid has also been a vocal opponent of the Players’ Coalition, a group run by Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins. The Players Coalition accepted $90 million from the NFL last year while the NFL attempted to get players to stop protesting racism during the national anthem. In exchange for this money, most players — including Jenkins — stopped protesting.
After an altercation with Jenkins during a Panthers vs. Eagles game last month, Reid told reporters that he felt that the Coalition betrayed Kaepernick, who started this movement by taking a knee back in 2016.
“We believe a lot of players should have stepped up for Colin,” Reid said. “I believe Malcolm capitalized on the situation, he co-opted the movement that was started by Colin [Kaepernick] to get his organization funded. It’s cowardly. He sold us out.”
Later that same week, Reid actually expanded on this to reporters in the Panthers locker room. Among other things, he said NFL owners were using Jenkins as a “black figurehead.” It’s an extremely uncomfortable statement to make about a player that so many inside and outside the league respect, and who does great work addressing systemic racial oppression, particularly in the criminal justice system. But that’s the point. Reid isn’t here to make anyone comfortable; he’s here to tell his truth.
“Malcolm called and asked me if I would stop protesting — ‘be comfortable ending my demonstrations’ were his words — if the NFL made a donation to the Players Coalition,” Reid said. “I tried not to blow a gasket and tell him no. Then he asked me, ‘Well how much? How much will it take for you to stop?’”
“So I ended that conversation with him. I told the other players who were involved with the coalition the content of our conversation. We then removed — a couple players, myself and I think three or four others removed ourselves from the Players Coalition via tweet.”
The NFL paid the Players Coalition all of that money in the hopes that these protests — and the issues being protested — would just fade into the background, and that they could just point to the donations and praise the players’ “work in the community” whenever they were criticized.
But now Reid is back in the NFL. He’s starting for the Panthers, a 6-3 team that has a good shot to make it to the playoffs. He has the full support of his team, which is using its own website to publish articles on why his military family supports his protests.
He’s still taking a knee during the national anthem every game, and pretty much every time there’s a microphone in his face, he’s using his platform to draw attention to police brutality, racism, and those who have tried to silence him. He’s unapologetic about his commitment to the cause.
This is the NFL’s worst nightmare.
After the Panthers suffered a humiliating loss on Thursday Night Football, Reid — who was ejected during the game for a hit on Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger — was subjected to a drug test.
With reporters surrounding him, Reid said that it was his fifth drug test in six weeks back in the league. The Big League did the math, and found there’s about a 0.5 percent chance any player would be randomly tested that much.
“They’re not going to catch me on anything,” Reid said. As much as the league may want to.