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Panthers’ Eric Reid: ‘I will keep speaking for my people’

The safety said he will continue to fight for equality and support Colin Kaepernick

Eric Reid is back in the game, but he’s not backing down.

His commitment to “speaking for my people” has not changed since signing with the Carolina Panthers last week. Reid is still all in.

“I’ll put it this way: Next year will be 2019,” said Reid, speaking with reporters Monday in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the first time since joining the Panthers. “It will mark 400 years since the first slave touched the soil in this country. That’s 400 years of systemic [oppression], that’s slavery, Jim Crow, new Jim Crow, mass incarceration, you name it.

“The Great Depression, they came out with a New Deal, [and] black people didn’t have access to those government stimulus packages. The New Deal was set up, which is known as the modern-day middle class. We didn’t have access to those programs, the GI Bill, Social Security, home loans, none of that. So this has been happening since my people have gotten here. I just felt the need to say something about it.’’

The veteran safety intends to push forward with his legal action against the NFL, which could be problematic for owners as hearings on the collusion grievances filed by Reid and still-unemployed quarterback Colin Kaepernick draw nearer. Reid and Kaepernick, friends and former San Francisco 49ers teammates, allege owners conspired to keep them unemployed because of their political activism. Although Reid, the first player to kneel alongside Kaepernick during the national anthem more than two years ago to draw attention to racial injustice and police brutality, is pleased his NFL career has resumed, he still wants his day in court.

“Without a doubt, yeah,’’ said Reid.

Reid, formerly with the 49ers for five years, became a free agent when his contract expired in March. He went unsigned through the offseason and training camp, prompting many players and civil rights leaders to surmise that teams shunned Reid because of his activism and allegiance with Kaepernick. Reid followed Kaepernick in challenging the league, and with Reid now back on a roster, he’s effectively suing his employer.

Everything that Reid, who has a one-year deal, experiences as a member of the Panthers could be grist for his legal team, said Thomas A. Lenz, a lecturer at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law. “With him returning, there’s also a question of what backlash, if any, will he see,” Lenz said.

“Will he be playing? Will he be received well? How will [officials from] other teams react to him? Just everything that he encounters in the situation moving forward, and what led to him joining [the Panthers], could be” relevant in an arbitration hearing.

Clearly, the possibility exists for awkward situations. Especially if Panthers employees wind up embroiled in Reid’s case unwittingly.

Eric Reid at a news conference Oct. 1 with the Carolina Panthers. His T-shirt says “I’m with Kap.”

Carolina Panthers

With his hearing upcoming, Reid revealed little about the long, winding road he traveled to Charlotte. “Those circumstances have to do with my case,” he said. “You have to talk to my lawyer about that.’’

The Panthers were in need of a proven safety because veteran Da’Norris Searcy was placed on injured reserve after suffering his second concussion in a month. The 49ers also were reportedly interested in re-signing Reid, who said he picked the Panthers for a simple reason: “They had a better offer.’’

Other than the Cincinnati Bengals, whom Reid visited in April, other teams did not show significant interest in him despite his solid performance with San Francisco, which included a Pro Bowl selection after his rookie season. Bengals owner Mike Brown allegedly questioned Reid about his plans to protest during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The question remains: Will Reid continue to demonstrate?

The Panthers did not ask Reid about his plans before he signed, he said. During the offseason, Reid discussed considering other ways to make his point.

“I’m still considering,” he said.

But Reid hasn’t wavered in support of Kaepernick, whose own collusion case could potentially be strengthened by how his friend fares at work.

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

“I know the people I have in my corner, and that’s all the support I need. There’s always opposition when you speak on topics like I’m speaking on, but I’m a black man in America. You can’t tell me what I’ve experienced and what I’ve seen is not true. … I mean, I felt those emotions time and time again. You can’t live in your own house in America without getting killed. It’s powerful. I will keep speaking for my people.’’

On the field, Reid finally has a new gig. However, his work off it, and his feelings toward the NFL, remain unchanged.

Liner Notes

ESPN.com staff writer David Newton contributed to this report.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at The Undefeated. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.