Colin Kaepernick, who’s been unsigned by the NFL for years after protesting racial injustice on the field, called out the league Sunday for hypocrisy in appearing to champion Black lives while still not signing a player who kneeled with him.
The activist and ex-San Francisco 49ers quarterback used the opening weekend of pro games to say that the NFL participates in what he considers performative activism for racial justice, given that safety Eric Reid remains unsigned.
Reid is an NFL free agent who proudly joined then-teammate and longtime friend Kaepernick in the 2016 protest that got the quarterback stonewalled from playing in the league, which has a long, troubled history confronting racism.
“While the NFL runs propaganda about how they care about Black Life, they are still actively blackballing Eric Reid … for fighting for the Black community,” Kaepernick tweeted. “Eric set 2 franchise records last year, and is one of the best defensive players in the league.”
Staring in 2013, Reid played five seasons with the 49ers. He signed as a free agent with the Carolina Panthers and played for that team in the 2018 and ’19 seasons
The NFL did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
Reid was the first player to join Kaepernick’s protest against racial injustice and police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem four years ago during a preseason game. Kaepernick’s decision to kneel ― informed by discussions with a military veteran ― led to a wave of peaceful protests by athletes for Black lives and a social movement within the sports world.
Conservative politicians — including then-presidential candidate Donald Trump ― reacted angrily to Kaepernick and Reid’s silent protest, wrongly arguing that the players were protesting the U.S. flag, the national anthem and the military. Some fans were turned off by the protests, and as president, Trump has continued to deride the movement among athletes.
Kaepernick has been unable to get a job in the NFL since 2017 even though he led San Francisco to the Super Bowl in the 2012 season and his conference’s title game the following year.
Reid was let go by the 49ers after the 2017 season and was not initially signed by any other team. He joined Kaepernick in filing a grievance arguing that the NFL and its owners colluded to prevent their employment because of their protest. The two players eventually settled with the league in February 2019.
The Panthers signed Reid a few games into the 2018 season, and he was vocal about the support he received from the team’s owner, David Tepper, and former coach Ron Rivera. Reid made sure to continue peacefully protesting on the field long after Kaepernick played his last NFL game.
But under Carolina’s new coach, Matt Rhule, the team has purged veterans with big contracts such as Reid’s. The team released Reid in March after he had signed a three-year, $22 million contract extension with the team the previous offseason. He has remained an unsigned free agent since the release.
“My agents have been in communications with teams daily, but there have been no developments,” Reid told Deadspin.
Kaepernick’s comments came on the same day most NFL teams opened their seasons in empty stadiums with player protests that mirrored what got the quarterback blackballed in the first place ― kneeling, locking arms, raising fists or staying off the field during the national anthem.
Last Thursday, some attendees at the league’s opening game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans booed as players on both teams linked arms on the field in a gesture of unity as seven statements against racism appeared on the scoreboards.
The league now also follows the national anthem with “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” commonly known as the Black national anthem. In July, The Associated Press reported that the NFL will allow players to have decals on the back of their helmets bearing the names or initials of victims of systemic racism and police violence.
The NFL’s so-called social awakening follows nationwide protests over police brutality and systemic oppression of Black people in the U.S., sparked initially by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Reid called out several football teams’ tweets about the Black Lives Matter movement several months ago by reminding them of Kaepernick’s unsigned status.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who refused to support Kaepernick’s protests, posted a video in June conceding that the league should have listened to the player and was late in acknowledging systemic racism. Earlier this month, EA Sports announced that it added Kaepernick to the 2021 edition of its “Madden” video game series, the first time he’ll appear in the game since 2016.