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NFL has a shot to get it right this time with Eric Reid

All while Colin Kaepernick’s lawsuit still looms over league

The NFL is courting disaster if Eric Reid isn’t on an NFL roster next season.

Reid, a free-agent safety who played for the San Francisco 49ers last season, received his first free-agent visit offer this offseason on Monday. The Cincinnati Bengals, a team wanting veteran safety help, extended an invitation to Reid, who will be auditioning for a spot in the coming days. Pro Football Focus rated Reid the 30th-best safety in the league, labeling him above average for the position. His level of production — 318 tackles, 10 interceptions, 34 passes defended and 1 sack — easily warrants him being on an NFL roster next year.

Reid knelt during the national anthem, however, to protest racial injustice and staunchly supported former teammate Colin Kaepernick. Many have argued that he remains unsigned because of this. If the next season starts without him on a roster, much of the viewing public and sports media will almost certainly conclude that the league is blackballing him. And I’m not sure why NFL teams would view that as a better alternative than signing him. Indeed, the NFL could potentially suffer mightily if he’s not playing during the 2018 NFL season.

I see two reasons why this is the case.

First, calls for boycotts will certainly heat up. I think many overlooked how the NFL’s ratings decline might have been fueled by people refusing to watch a product that would blackball Kaepernick for opposing racism through his method of protest. If those who have been calling for people to eschew the NFL in support of Kaepernick can add an additional name to their efforts, that only strengthens their hand.

Add to this the specter of Kaepernick’s lawsuit looming in the horizon. During last NFL season, Kaepernick sued the NFL, arguing that at least two NFL teams colluded by agreeing not to sign him in violation of federal antitrust law. The lawsuit inches forward and currently is in discovery phase, with his lawyers retrieving documents, communications and emails from NFL teams and deposing NFL owners, most recently Bob McNair, owner of the Houston Texans. If these attorneys find damning evidence, those calling for a boycott can build an ever more persuasive case, not to mention the millions of dollars guilty teams would lose.

Second, the future of the NFL, a league dominated by the presence of black athletes, depends on young black boys who, right now, dream of being in the league. We all know about chronic traumatic encephalopathy and how NFL players are choosing to walk away from millions of dollars in their 20s rather than expose their brains to more trauma. Retired players fear how their futures might look.

Young football players are noticing this, and their parents are surely forcing this information into their field of vision. Now these young kids must decide whether they still want to be in a league where, if they voice their political opinions on the field of play, they could be blackballed. If they choose to be political while their brains are still able to formulate cogent thoughts, they might be denied an opportunity to work.

The NFL, by pursuing this course, is perhaps drying up its own talent pool. The NFL needs young people to want to be the league’s next stars. But, in coddling the racially resentful sector of its fan base, the league is harming its own bottom line.

When people of color say that white supremacy hurts white people too, we have situations like this in mind.

Brando Simeo Starkey is an associate editor at The Undefeated and the author of In Defense of Uncle Tom: Why Blacks Must Police Racial Loyalty. He crawled through a river of books and came out brilliant on the other side.