CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera consistently has made it clear he has no issue with safety Eric Reid kneeling during the national anthem as a protest against social injustice even if it goes against his personal beliefs having grown up in a military family.
Rivera has said repeatedly Reid simply is exercising his First Amendment rights.
“Very respectfully, he doesn’t have a choice,” Reid said on Wednesday when asked about having Rivera’s support in kneeling. “He’s entitled to his opinion, but I know what my rights are. His family was a military family much like many of my people were in the military. My cousin just got back from Afghanistan. My mom was in the armed services. My uncle was enlisted. The list goes on.
“But when they get home they’re still black in America. They’re going to fight the same wars when they get home and still face the same things I’m talking about. So I get encouragement from my family that served in the armed forces because they agree with what I’m saying.”
The Panthers (5-2) will honor the military during Sunday’s NFC South game against Tampa Bay (3-4) as part of “Salute to Service Week.”
Reid plans to kneel during the anthem just as he has the past four games since signing with Carolina. He is the only Carolina player who has taken a knee during the anthem since former San Francisco teammate Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during their 2016 season with the 49ers to protest police brutality and social injustice.
The closest the Panthers had to a protest before Reid’s arrival came during Week 3 last season when defensive end Julius Peppers stayed in the locker room during the anthem. Peppers has been on the field and standing since that game.
“Like I’ve always said about this stuff, the only time it’s a distraction is when you guys bring it up,” Rivera said of the media. “As I’ve always said, I try to keep these things separate. To me it’s about playing football. The players know how I feel about everything. It’s all about what’s going on out on the field.”
Reid said some fans have “yelled” at him in his two homes games with the Panthers. He said most of that occurs before the anthem as he’s warming up.
“Everybody is entitled to their opinion, I’m expressing mine,” Reid said. “In the stands, I’ve always heard the people yelling. When I’m in the community, when I get approached, I can honestly say I’ve not had anybody say stop kneeling in public. It’s all been supportive.”
Reid and Kaepernick both filed grievances against the NFL when they weren’t signed by another team after the 2017 season. Kaepernick remains unsigned.
The two still work together on projects to create social awareness and make more people involved in their cause. But it many ways, since signing with the Panthers, Reid has become the voice of the two.
Reid called Philadelphia safety Malcolm Jenkins, one of the founders of the Players Coalition, a “sellout” and “neo-colonialist” after the two had a heated exchange prior to their game two weeks ago.
Reid twice, following Sunday’s win against Baltimore, went through a lengthy answer of why it was important to call out Jenkins when a second wave of reporters approached him.
“We didn’t start protesting for the NFL’s money,” Reid said. “So when we feel like a deal was done to end what we started, we take offense to that.”
Reid said Kaepernick continues to do more behind the scenes with their “Know Your Rights Camps” that don’t get the media attention.
“He might not step in front of a camera often, but behind the scenes he’s working extremely hard,” Reid said. “He meets people morning to night on a daily basis.”
While Reid is getting more comfortable in Carolina’s defense and hopes his contribution helps the team achieve its goal of reaching the Super Bowl, he doesn’t mind all the questions about his cause.
“Football is a game,” Reid said. “The A gap is the A gap. The B gap is the B gap. Every team has good players. But this is more important to me. Football is my job, but this is my life. I believe I’ve got to speak up for my people.”
Jenkins said his end game “is to make change and empower people along the way.”
He thinks of the injustices he has personally seen and read about in American history when kneeling.
“A lot of time it’s anger, knowing the context in which that song was written during the battle, knowing the verses that were omitted from that song,” Reid said. “That song was created talking about killing slaves.”
A verse in the full version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” has been the focus of controversy in recent years. Some historians argue it was written in celebration of the massacre of former slaves who were fighting for the British in the War of 1812.
“I think about the history I’ve educated myself on, the people that have been lynched by the people that were supposed to protect them,” Reid said. “Just the history of my people, it all runs through my head. Just the videos I’ve seen on social media the last three or four years, it lights a fire in me.”