San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid was the first player to begin kneeling alongside former teammate Colin Kaepernick. Unlike Kaepernick, Reid retained a job in the NFL this season and in 12 starts at strong safety, accumulated 61 tackles and two interceptions. However, it was still his presence as the prominent leader of a coalition of players who kneeled to protest police brutality that made him noteworthy.
Reid will be testing free agency this offseason and with that, his career may come to an impasse. Reid’s consistent stance on kneeling during the national anthem complicates matters. In October, Reid left The Player’s Coalition after the group’s leadership unilaterally agreed to accept nearly $100 million in NFL donations to organizations that support criminal justice reform, in exchange for ending the anthem protests.
When asked about the possibility of teams blackballing him, Reid seemed resigned to whatever his fate would be, per ESPN’s Nick Wagoner:
“I wouldn’t use the word concerned,” Reid said. “I would say I understand that’s a possibility. And I’m completely fine with it. The things that I’ve done, I stand by, and I’ve done that for my own personal beliefs. Like I said, I’m fine with whatever outcome happens because of that.”
“It’s a possibility,” Reid said. “There are probably teams that won’t want to talk to me because of it. I’m hopeful that I will be on a team next year, but if not, again, that’s OK with me.”
On one hand, Reid is clearly a starter at strong safety, but one could have said the same thing about Kaepernick before this season. Ironically, Reid, whose mother served in the armed forces, initially joined Kaepernick in kneeling rather than sitting during the anthem after consulting with Green Beret Nate Boyer about how they could respectfully protest without disrespecting veterans.
Reid initially planned to stand during the anthem this season until the events in Charlottesville, Virginia in August reignited his protest.
“What I was upset about was the false narratives that were being told about us, people were saying we’re un-American, that we’re against police entirely and the military,” Reid said, according to ESPN’s Nick Wagoner. “And that just wasn’t true. At first, I thought that was a small sacrifice to pay to get the word out to raise awareness, and I settled with thinking that raising that awareness was victory.
“Then fast-forward to Charlottesville, and the country sees what an un-American protest really looks like.
There’s always the option for Reid to return to San Francisco in 2018, however, general manager John Lynch, himself a former safety, has his own opposing personal views on the protests which would appear to make Reid’s return an unlikely scenario. Besides, the Niners may already have begun grooming his replacement. Reid briefly flirted with playing linebacker in the Niners 43 defense after backup safety Jaquiski Tartt snatched the starting strong safety job while Reid missed three games due to a left knee injury. However, Tartt’s season-ending injury resulted in Reid moving back to strong safety. Even so, Tartt’s meager salary cap number makes him a more enticing option for the Niners.
It wouldn’t be that unusual for a player of Reid’s caliber to switch teams during his prime, but if he goes unsigned, the NFL will have made an implicit decision that domestic abusers, felons and sex offenders are more acceptable to them and their fan base than peaceful protesters of social injustice.
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