|A knee for the cause|
|In Panthers debut, Eric Reid resumes activism|
|Published Wednesday, October 10, 2018 10:10 am|
Eric Reid knew he’d draw a crowd.
His locker stall at Bank of America Stadium swarmed with reporters and cameras when Reid retreated from the showers after the Panthers beat the New York Giants 33-31 Sunday. Some wanted to talk about football – Reid, a safety, tallied three tackles in his first NFL game of the season – but everybody wanted to talk kneeling.
Dressed in a black T-shirt emblazoned with “I Know My Rights” on the front, Reid was ready to oblige.
One sideline gesture – putting his right knee on the ground during the playing of the national anthem – brought renewed attention to Reid, who couldn’t find employment in the NFL until injuries wiped out the Panthers’ supply of competent safeties.
So, he assumed the posture as a protest against police brutality and racial injustice, which he started in 2016 as a San Francisco 49er with former teammate Colin Kaepernick. They both have collusion complaints pending against the league for conspiring to keep them sidelined because of their protests.
“I was considering since I got here,” Reid said. “This morning I found out the officer that killed Tamir Rice was rehired. I feel that is unacceptable. [Brett] Kavanaugh was voted into the Supreme Court. That’s unacceptable. I feel like our country is moving backward, and the only way to change that is to keep talking about it, keep raising awareness, keep doing what we’re doing.”
Teammates showed their support. Defensive end Julius Peppers hugged Reid after the anthem, then receiver Torrey Smith, who lobbied Carolina brass to sign him. Then fellow defensive backs Captain Munnerlyn and Mike Adams.
The gaggle of reporters around Reid grew, engulfing space around his teammates.
“Can we back up a little?” Reid implored the throng after the first couple of inquires.
“Great teammate,” rookie cornerback Donte Jackson chimed in. “Y’all on my lawn!”
It’s hard to imagine any Panther kneeling before Sunday, at least not while Jerry Richardson owned the franchise. Old school southern in manner and persona, Richardson sold out to David Tepper earlier this year when allegations of Richardson’s workplace impropriety surfaced. Tepper, who paid an NFL-record $2.2 billion for the team and has publicly backed players expressing themselves, approved Reid’s signing. Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who has skirted issues of race and politics in the past, knew the protest would become a question. His answer?
“I’m not going to talk about a guy exercising his First Amendment rights,” Rivera said in his postgame press conference. “What I’m going to talk about is a football game because to me it’s about what happens on the football field and then what you do off the field.”
Quarterback Cam Newton, the face of the franchise, was more interested in Reid’s day on defense.
“How did he play? OK? Cool. I mean, that’s all the things that I really care about. We are all entitled to our own opinions. As the man that he is, anything that he stands for, as his teammate I’m going to stand with him too. If he feels a type of way, obviously we have to talk about it as men. We are all held to a high standard and at this particular point, he understands that he’s on a team that has a lot of weapons and he’s one of those weapons. So, for all I care, as long as he’s out there not being a distraction. I didn’t see a distraction today.”
What was seen is a man not afraid to live with his convictions, understanding they won’t be popular everywhere in a polarized and divided nation. For better or worse, Reid’s moved beyond racial injustice as a political football.
“People who don’t want things to change, people who want to maintain the status quo, this is the only thing they can do,” he said. “They have to subvert, they have to distract, they have to redirect from what we’re trying to accomplish, and the only way they can do that is to try to alter the narrative. We have to stay strong. We have to stay diligent to make sure that narrative doesn’t change.”
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