Eric Reid was ranked the 10th best safety in the NFL according to Bleacher Report last season. He’s a former pro-bowler and five year starter with the 49ers. Reid is only 26 years old and was expected to be a high target free agent this offseason by a number of NFL scouts. He’s a high caliber defensive back that can fill multiple roles on defense – playing over five different positions last season for the 49ers. Team owners aren’t worried about his numbers or past, however, they’re worried about his position on standing for the National Anthem.
During the offseason, only the Cincinnati Bengals hosted Reid for a tryout. He worked out with the team, took a physical, studied film with coaches, and was ready to be signed…until he had a one on one meeting with Bengals’ owner Mike Brown. Brown wanted to know Reid’s intentions for the upcoming season when the National Anthem was played, and Reid gave an answer Brown assuredly knew was coming. No other team offered Reid a contract or held a tryout with him.
Reid has had discussions with veterans, multiple veteran groups have announced they understand and endorse Kaepernick, Reid, and other players’ protests as respectful, and even wrote an open letter defending Kaepernick and Reid specifically. Last season, Reid spoke to reporters and emphasized that the ideas that he’s disrespecting veterans, hates America, and hates the flag are wildly false.
“I’ve spoken to you all previously about controlling the narrative. And that’s what we’ll do. If I need to say it every time ya’ll ask me, this is not about the military, this is not about the flag, this is not about the anthem. My mother served in the armed forces. Three of my uncles served in the armed forces. In fact, my mom would have went to the Persian Gulf War if she wasn’t pregnant with me. I have the utmost respect for the military, for the anthem, for the flag. So I will say that every time ya’ll interview me. This is about systemic oppression that has been rampant in this country for decades on top of decades. And I will continue to say and encourage people to educate themselves of how we got to where are today, because it didn’t happen overnight. And it’s not going to happen overnight to fix these issues, so we’re going to keep talking about it. I know that I will keep doing what I feel is necessary to use the platform that I have to make those changes. It’s really disheartening when everything that you were raised on, everything that I was raised on, was to be the best person I can be, to help people that need help, and the vice president of the United States is trying to confuse the message that we’re trying to put out there. I don’t know what else to say about it.”
In a discussion with former NBA player Etan Thomas, Thomas referenced the fact that Reid is taking a stand that “disrupts [people’s] comfort to bring attention to issues. Any way you protest, people object.” To Thomas, sports and activism go hand in hand, both now and historically. “People embrace MLK now, but they hated him when he was alive. People hated and severely mistreated Muhammad Ali during his career, but love and respect him years later. Look at Bill Russell – people loved him as a player and wore his jersey and celebrated his accomplishments, but when he spoke up about racism and racial prejudice, it’s astonishing how quickly it goes from love to hate.”
Comparing Reid’s numbers to the active safeties on the Bengals depth chart, there is no comprehensible reason for them to not sign the former pro-bowler. In 4 fewer games started (due to a knee injury), Reid had more interceptions than every player, the second most passes deflected, and the second most tackles – and he was forced to play unnatural positions to assist with the 49ers short handed defense.
Perhaps the most appalling fact specific to the Bengals’ organization is the fact that Reid has a strong track record as a respectful and law abiding citizen. He hosts an annual golf tournament with the proceeds going to the Baton Rouge Sickle Cell Anemia foundation. Meanwhile, the Bengals have had the third most arrests since 2000 (44 arrests, behind only the Broncos and Vikings), including longtime cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones, who’s been arrested 10 separate times. The endorsement of players like Jones is undoubtedly confusing compared to someone like Reid who’s only “negative attribute” is his political and social activism.
According to Etan Thomas, the biggest omitted piece of Eric Reid and Colin Kaepernick’s narrative is something even he was unaware of initially. Reid and Torrey Smith, who Etan also interviewed in We Matter “Athletes And Activism”, as well as other fellow 49ers players met in different cities with local police departments every away game to share ideas and have discussions exploring ways in which the police could improve relationships between the department and the local community. They didn’t just stop with the protests but attempted to implement a tangible solution that grew from the awareness that the protests brought on the subject of police brutality.
In his recently filed grievance against the NFL, Reid is being represented by the same lawyer as former teammate Colin Kaepernick. They seek to prove the NFL and team owners violated Article 17.1.a of the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, which states “No Club, its employees or agents shall enter into any agreement, express or implied, with the NFL or any other Club, its employees or agents to restrict or limit individual Club decision-making.” The biggest difference between Reid’s grievance and Kaepernick’s, however, is that Reid’s case directly names President Trump for directing NFL owners to collectively terminate the contracts of players who protest the anthem.
To Etan Thomas, Trump’s involvement is one of the most concerning issues of the entire narrative. Trump’s direct attack on specific NFL players is something he’s never seen before, as an athlete or person, as well as Trump’s attacks on people in general from his position as president. Referring to the aftermath of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, Thomas questions, “How could you criticize students who witness their friends’ deaths. How could someone threaten to expel people for participating in peaceful demonstrations by high school students. How could you so fervently attempt to stop a discussion without listening to their reasoning. If he can criticize students surviving a shooting, he’ll criticize anyone.”
At a rally last year, Trump stood in front of thousands and yelled, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired. You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it, they’ll be the most popular person in the country.” Reid’s grievance not only has merit, but the arguments as to why Kaepernick has not been signed (won’t fit into a team’s system, he only has mid-tier stats, etc) cannot be applied to Reid’s case. Thomas noted, “people don’t want existing systems to change. They want players to be more grateful for being given the chance to perform at a certain level, and they especially don’t want such players to use their platforms to challenge the status quo. Kaepernick and Reid are speaking for the people who are shouting yet ignored on a daily basis.”
In a powerful closing, Thomas acknowledges the significance of Reid and Kaepernick’s efforts:
“So much respect for Eric Reid and Colin Kaepernick. I hope they win this collusion case against the NFL not only for themselves, but for all of the future NFL athletes activist who want to use their position and their platforms to speak out on injustice. By blackballing them, the NFL is sending a direct message to all future athlete activists that if you step out of line, this will also happen to you. It’s a fear tactic that will be used to silence many future athlete activists.”