Football

Hero or villain? How new Panther Eric Reid can shift the entire landscape of the NFL

The elephant is in the room. Only this time, some are choosing to acknowledge it.

Eric Reid stood at the podium Monday, looming large while wearing a #IMWITHKAP T-shirt in his first news conference since being signed by the Carolina Panthers.

The imagery of Reid’s official return to the NFL represented two statements. One, the Colin Kaepernick social justice and police brutality crusade is back in the limelight. And two, his presence puts the NFL once again in danger of alienating a good portion of its fan base.

Will Reid, who, like Kap, was once thought to be blacklisted from the league, carry on the legacy of the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback and kneel during the national anthem? Will he do something else?

“I’ll make that decision later,” Reid, one of Kaepernick’s biggest supporters, told reporters.

Now, we wait. Reid has the ball in his court and his actions — or lack thereof — carry the power to shift how the NFL is perceived by many for the rest of this season and beyond.

I’ve said it a million times: I supported Kaepernick’s actions initially. His stance was on an important issue and it was timely. Yes, he did believe in something and sacrifice everything.

But the movement — in relation to the NFL — has gotten stale. The last mention I remember was when a couple Miami Dolphins players knelt during the preseason. Since, it’s been crickets as we’re through four weeks of the regular season.

It’s been pretty peaceful.

The headlines have shifted from what was going on off the field to what’s happening on the gridiron, even if a new way of ruling roughing the passer penalties has been drawing ire. Still, that was between the lines, and this past week it appeared the league had made a few tweaks to lessen the blow defensive players were absorbing.

There’s been a ton of excitement, even if some of it has been hijacked by the media to a point where it’s hard to stomach. Yes, Patrick Mahomes tossed the ball left-handed Monday night — it was a great play — en route to leading the Kansas City Chiefs to a come-from-behind win over the Denver Broncos. I saw it, and now I’m hearing about it — over and over and over.

And no, he’s not Brett Favre nor Aaron Rodgers just yet, though the media keeps trying to make comparisons.

But I’ll take it.

Hearing about incredible — or lackluster (think Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Texans) — stories on the field is what the season is all about, no matter if they are exaggerated to a point of nauseam.

But look who just walked through the door? Yes, Kaepernick’s sidekick is back.

Reid’s vagueness about what he’ll do — or not do — this weekend when he and the Panthers host the New York Giants is a cause for anxiety. League officials have got to be holding their breath.

That being said, those who are not hardcore fans might not even know that he has been signed; he’s a safety, after all (not a QB like Kaepernick). Perhaps they’ll just tune in Sunday, expecting football to be football.

Will there be a bombshell? No one but Reid knows.

The power is in his hands now.

But unfortunately, the conversation about the movement is no longer about who’s right and who’s wrong in social justice. It’s about how kneeling protests are being perceived by NFL viewers.

The original message is gone and can’t be recovered.

Personally, I think that if Reid is planning to make any kind of protest, he should find a subtle way to do it. How about one that doesn’t involve the flag this time?

Maybe stay in the locker room? Not showing up to make a statement might be even more of a powerful message. Or instead of angering people by involving the flag, which blurs the message, perhaps shift the conversation forward in a way that alienates no one and instead brings us together?

People are aware of the issue by now and that was the original purpose behind the movement. They get it.

But now Reid finds himself in a dangerous position. How he handles this situation will have a long-term affect on his career — and the league.

I’m with Kap, too. He’s fighting a good fight, and he has indeed sacrificed a great deal to pursue it. And I can appreciate Reid’s willingness to stand alongside Kaepernick while jeopardizing his own career until now.

These guys are helping create change. I just don’t want to see it backfire by intertwining with the NFL and flag again.

It’s one thing to take a stand for something you believe in. It’s another to shove it down people’s throats every time they tune in to watch a football game.

We’re dealing with a thin line here. Let’s hope Reid does the right thing, even though it’s hard to tell what that actually is at this point.

He could go down as the hero who brought us together by finding a happy medium to the kneeling saga or he could become the villain who reignited a fire that has run many fans off.

Your move, Eric.

David Wetzel: @MYBSports, 843-626-0295
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