SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Eric Reid said he hopes that the criticism President Donald Trump directed at NFL players protesting during the national anthem will help bring awareness to the issues that former San Francisco 49ers teammate Colin Kaepernick hoped to raise when he began his protest last year.
Kaepernick sat during the national anthem because of police brutality and racial discrimination and the protest grew with a handful of other players like Reid joining Kaepernick. It became much more extensive Sunday when the 49ers had the day off.
More than 200 NFL players kneeled or raised fists during the anthem and almost three entire teams stayed in the locker room in response to Trump saying NFL owners should fire players who kneel during the anthem and describing those protesters with the term “son of a bitch.”
“I was confused,” Reid said Wednesday. “I didn’t really understand why he said what he said. It’s obviously frustrating. I think he gave us the opportunity to make something positive come out of it.”
Reid said some of the issues he and Kaepernick are concerned about are police brutality against minorities, social injustice, unfair incarceration rates for minorities and a bail system that keeps many people locked up before they have been convicted of a crime.
He cited statistics from Harvard Ph.D. candidate Clint Smith and talked about how many New Deal policies in the 1930s excluded many minorities and have helped create issues of inequality that remain today. He also talked about an op-ed piece he wrote for The New York Times this week explaining the protests.
“That’s the amazing and beautiful thing about the platform we have as professional athletes, for some reason people want to listen to us,” Reid said. “I don’t know why. There are people who are a lot smarter than me who don’t have the same platform that professional athletes have.”
With the 49ers having the weekend off after playing last Thursday night, Reid had the opportunity to watch the protests around the league.
He spoke frequently with Kaepernick, whom he calls the leader of the movement that has crossed over to other sports with Oakland Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell also kneeling during the national anthem and many NBA players expressing their anger at Trump.
“He wishes that this many people were involved last year,” Reid said. “I don’t think the narrative would have gone in as many directions as it went if we had more solidarity. We could have focused in on these issues. We have to be pragmatic about it. We have this opportunity now. It’s important that we discuss these issues and make changes.”
Reid also said it’s wrong that no NFL team has signed Kaepernick as a free agent this off-season based on a career that includes four career playoff wins, a trip to the Super Bowl and last year’s mark of 16 touchdown passes and just four interceptions.
“I think Colin should be in the NFL,” Reid said. “I think it’s asinine the things that I heard about him not being the calibre of player to make it in this league.”
Reid said he originally planned to stop his protest this season but decided to resume it after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, led to the death of a woman protesting the rally and Trump then said “both sides” were at fault.
Reid stressed his protest is not about Trump but about the issues he cares so passionately about.
“It’s not about protesting the president for me,” he said. “It’s about doing what’s right surrounding these issues. His comments on two issues have directly related to these issues but my protest is not about the president.”
The 49ers held meetings Monday to discuss how they will handle protests and the national anthem on Sunday in Arizona. There was a team-wide meeting and the leadership council of about a dozen players met with coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch.
They are still deciding what they will do but Reid said he didn’t want to force anyone to do something they weren’t comfortable doing.
“I anticipate us doing something together,” Shanahan said. “I think that’s really what it’s about.”