• Eric Reid is back on the field after being signed by the Panthers, and he made his stance very clear by sporting an #IMWITHKAP t-shirt to his first press conference with the team.
By Jonathan Jones
October 01, 2018

CHARLOTTE — If Eric Reid ever expected to play in the NFL again, he probably didn’t anticipate that his first team practice would be at the start of Week 5. The wait would be longer, he figured, but he’s happy to be with the Carolina Panthers nonetheless.

After Monday’s practice Reid returned to the locker room in a sleeveless, white Nike team-issued shirt. He was prepared to speak with assembled media at his locker, but the Panthers PR staff decided to knock this out in a more comfortable environment, so they ushered him to the press conference room.

Before changing rooms Reid reached in his locker for a black shirt that read #IMWITHKAP on the front in a white block font. He hadn’t said a word but Reid was making the statement that even with his new-found employment, he still stands beside his friend Colin Kaepernick, the face of the NFL player movement that protests social injustice and police brutality against black and brown bodies by demonstrating during the national anthem.

“I’ll keep speaking for my people,” Reid said at the end of his press conference, just in case his shirt’s statement wasn’t enough.

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If you believe like I do that Kaepernick has been effectively blackballed from the NFL and will never again see an NFL playing field, Reid represents the closest thing to Kaepernick the league will see. The two players knelt together when they played for San Francisco, and they work together on community events (including one recently with a girls club in Harlem). Reid said Kaepernick is even “filling in some gaps for me” as it relates to leaving his family in New Jersey to take the job in Charlotte.

Reid’s path to Carolina began shortly after the Panthers’ Week 3 win against the Bengals when the team realized they needed better play from the safety position. After talks with the Bengals in the spring and a failed visit to the Titans in August, Reid had two offers on the table from Carolina and San Francisco and took the better of the two.

But he declined to give any more details Monday. “Those circumstances have to do with my case so you’ll have to talk to my lawyer about that,” Reid said when asked for more. Reid confirmed strongly that his collusion grievance suit against the NFL is continuing despite his new employment.

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In Reid we see perhaps the most militant NFL player of all as it relates to social justice issues. Three times Monday he referred to “my people.” He refused to reveal his future plans for potential protest in games as early as next Sunday against the Giants. He reaffirmed his split from the Players Coalition and went so far as to call it “an NFL-funded subversion group” after the group partnered with the NFL to dedicate nearly $90 million to efforts combatting social inequality.

It’s possible the league thought it had its so-called “anthem issue” behind it. The failed anthem policy never made it to the regular season, just a handful of players are still demonstrating and the president isn’t tweeting about it anymore. Now Kaepernick’s closest ally is back on an NFL roster and not backing down.

This issue of empowerment is one that Reid has felt the need to speak up on for years. He noted that next year will be the 400th anniversary of our country’s original sin, when the first African slaves were kidnapped and brought to Jamestown. He spoke intelligently on the systemic oppression against blacks that has continued since then, from Jim Crow laws to discriminatory housing loans to mass incarceration.

Issues of oppression against minorities aren’t going away, and so Reid won’t stop talking about them. “You can’t live in your own house [while black] in America without getting killed,” Reid said in reference to the shooting death of Botham Jean last month.

“As we’ve said when we started, Colin and I, nothing will change unless we talk about it,” Reid said. “So we’re going to continue to talk about it and continue to hold America to the standard that it says on paper, that we’re all created equal. Because it’s not that way right now. We’re going to keep pushing towards that.”

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