San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick (7) and Eric Reid (35) kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte on Sept. 18, 2016. (Mike McCarn/AP)
On Sunday, before the San Francisco 49ers face off against the Philadelphia Eagles, Eric Reid will be kneeling on the sidelines during the national anthem like he has been doing for more than a year.
Reid, a 49ers safety turned linebacker, said that he remains committed to the protest over police brutality against African Americans that his former teammate Colin Kaepernick kicked off last season, despite his agent’s warning that he could end up like Kaepernick and be blackballed from the NFL when his contract expires next year.
“There is a risk that teams won’t want to sign me because of my involvement, but I’ve come to terms with that,” Reid said in an interview with The Washington Post Friday. “I believe what I’m doing is bigger than my career, and quite frankly we need more people to take that position. The system will only change via public pressure.”
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The protests have riled President Trump, fans and America's most profitable sports league as television ratings continue to drop, rattling some sponsors. Earlier this month, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a letter to the 32 team owners articulating the league's stance that players should stand during the anthem “to honor our flag and our country.”
But Reid said owners did not make an explicit request to players during their Oct. 17 meeting in New York. Team owners are scheduled to meet with players again on Tuesday to continue their dialogue about the protests.
Some players, such as Reid, continue to kneel during the anthem, amid boos from fans. Some stand with raised fists — or with their hands on teammates who kneel. Others sit on the bench or remain in the locker room.
But the numbers of players protesting have fallen since the initial wave that swept the league in September after Trump called upon the NFL to fire any “son of a bitch” player who knelt during the anthem.
Reid said he wished players would test an ultimatum issued by the Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to bench any Dallas Cowboys player who “takes a knee.”
“If they believe in the cause like Colin and I do, they should kneel. And if they are punished for doing so, I think they should take legal action,” Reid said.
Reid said he understands the financial pressures that the league and teams are under from sponsors and why most players may find it difficult to protest during the anthem.
“We live in a capitalistic environment where everything is PR,” he said. “What we’re doing is the most American thing you can do, but it’s not good for business.”
Reid said he has a small shoe deal with Under Armour and has thus far felt no financial repercussions himself.
NFL sponsorship revenue rose $1.25 billion in the 2016-2017 season, according to IEG research.
Most NFL sponsors have refrained from making public statements, but Nike early on said it supported the players “right to freedom of expression on issues that are of great importance to our society.” Hyundai also said it respects individuals’ rights to express themselves in any peaceful manner chosen.
Other sponsors have avoided taking sides. Under Armour said it stands by the flag as well as its athletes' right to free speech. Bose said it respects freedom of expression “whether we agree with those views or not.” Ford, too, said it supports players’ rights to express their views, “even if they are not ones we share.”
Reid said he finds it ironic that during the anthem, an ostensibly sacred time to those accusing protesting players of disrespect, fans are yakking on their cellphones, buying beer and hot dogs from stadium concession stands, and taunting the silently kneeling players. He also pointed out that some of the supposed heartwarming displays of patriotism on the football field has been paid advertising by the Department of Defense.
A 2015 Senate investigation found that the Defense Department spent $6.8 million since 2012 on marketing contracts with sports teams, including the honoring of wounded veterans during games, as a recruitment strategy.
Reid said he would continue to use sports as a platform to send a message to young people to fight for racial justice.
“We are role models. That’s how sports has always been in this country,” Reid said. “If we don’t show people that we have power as citizens, which is the foundation of our country, then the system will only continue to abuse us and benefit the people in power and the people who have the money to lobby the politicians who make the laws.”
He also spreads his message through Kaepernick’s “Know Your Rights” campaign, which educates youths on their legal rights and how to interact with police, as well as health and financial literacy.
As a college student at Louisiana State University, Reid said he was pulled over on campus for “driving while black.” He said the officer wrote him a ticket for “disturbing the peace,” claiming that Reid blasted his music so loudly that it vibrated the windshield of the patrol car. Meanwhile, the officer was policing a concert. The ticket ended up being dismissed.
“People say ‘Oh, you’re an athlete. You make so much money,’ ” so stop whining about injustice, he said. But “at the end of the day, when you’re out in society, you’re just another black person in America. It doesn’t matter how much money you make.”
Reid said he continues to have discussions with his teammates, many of whom are new to the 49ers, about his reasons for protesting. He said a couple of white players have expressed a desire to be involved but said they could not do so during the anthem.
He said when he first joined Kaepernick in kneeling last September, “we knew we might be on our own for a while. But we hoped that later people would find safety in numbers.”
About a half-dozen 49ers players have been kneeling with him each Sunday. He’s disappointed there are not more.
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal,” he said, quoting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “Watching everything happening in our country and knowing its history — and calling myself a man of God — I felt I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t do something. I’m just going to keep pushing forward.”