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Eric Reid’s Wait for a Return to the NFL Is Over

The safety, who the Carolina Panthers signed to a one-year deal, was the first player to kneel alongside Colin Kaepernick in 2016 in protest of racial injustice

Dallas Cowboys v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Carolina Panthers signed Eric Reid to a one-year deal Thursday, adding a new chapter of football to a story much larger than sports.

Reid, the first player to kneel alongside Colin Kaepernick in 2016, wrote in a New York Times op-ed in September 2017 that protesting racial injustice during the national anthem again that season, the final year of his contract with the 49ers, could effectively end his career. “I want to be a man my children and children’s children can be proud of, someone who faced adversity and tried to make a positive impact on the world, a person who, 50 years from now, is remembered for standing for what was right, even though it was not the popular or easy choice,” Reid wrote.

As the 2018 season crept closer, it seemed that Reid’s suspicion had come true. The 26-year-old former Pro Bowl safety, who was drafted 18th overall in 2013, had just one meeting with an NFL team (the Cincinnati Bengals) in free agency this year. With Reid unemployed and entering the prime of his career, the NFLPA filed a grievance against the NFL on his behalf in May, alleging collusion to keep Reid out of the league.

It turns out that Reid’s football career is not over. The Panthers needed a safety this week after placing Da’Norris Searcy on injured reserve after he sustained two concussions in the last month. Now they’re getting the best one left on the market. In Reid’s five-year tenure in San Francisco, he led the team in interceptions and was second in tackles, games started, and games played. In 2017, he demonstrated additional versatility by playing linebacker in nickel packages.

There is no clarity yet on whether Reid will continue his protests in Carolina, but new Panthers owner David Tepper sharply departed from other NFL owners’ rhetoric when he defended players who protest injustice during the anthem in an interview with CNBC’s Scott Wapner earlier this month.

“These are some of the most patriotic people and best people,” Tepper said. “These are great young men. So to say that [they aren’t patriotic] makes me so aggravated and angry. It’s just wrong, it’s dead wrong.”

The Panthers are showing their support for their newest player on social media. The team tweeted a photo of Reid with a raised fist Thursday, along with fist emoji.

Reid also received support from Kaepernick, who tweeted a photo of the two and congratulated the safety.

The safety market has taken a dip this year as players like Earl Thomas, Tyrann Mathieu, Kenny Vaccaro, and Tre Boston struggled to reach deals this offseason, but Reid’s continued unemployment was extraordinary. The Panthers focused on football when they met with Reid, not any future plans of his to protest, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. Had every other team taken the same approach, Reid almost certainly would have been signed in March. Now he’ll suit up for the 2-1 Panthers, who are tied for the lead in the most competitive division in football.

Panthers wide receiver Torrey Smith, who played with Reid in San Francisco and serves as a member of the Players Coalition, had been lobbying this week for the team to sign Reid. After the announcement, Smith tweeted a message that was retweeted by the Panthers account:

“There is never a wrong time to do the right thing.”