Column: Remember Kaepernick, Reid as training camps open
As NFL training camps opened this week, complete with interminable speculation about position battles, rookies who might make an impact and what players can or can’t do while “The Star-Spangled Banner” is playing, let’s remember two players who aren’t suiting up.
Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid are good enough to be playing for someone.
That much is beyond debate.
But the league has decided to make an example of them, a clear warning to its employees that only so much social activism will be tolerated even while it feigns a sense of respecting their desire to protest during the national anthem.
If the NFL were really concerned about its players, it wouldn’t be denying these two their well-earned right to make a living.
Rest assured, history won’t be kind when it looks back on the way Kaepernick and Reid were treated by the NFL.
“Both of those guys are NFL talents. Both of them are quality players that can contribute to a roster and contribute to a team winning. They’ve proven it,” New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson said. “I do think that 100 percent of the reason why they’re not on a roster is the other stuff that they’re standing for is outweighing the risk a team wants to take to put them on a roster.”
Kaepernick and Reid are following the same path as social warriors who came before them.
Muhammad Ali, who was stripped of his heavyweight boxing title and barred from the ring for more than three years after he refused induction into the military during the Vietnam War.
Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who defiantly stood with their fists in the air on the medal podium at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics to protest the way black people were — and still are — being treated in America.
Ali, Smith and Carlos were vilified at the time.
Now, they’re viewed at heroes — but only after making huge personal, professional and financial sacrifices to stand up for what they believed.
Kaepernick and Reid are making those same sacrifices.
“I do think it’s sad and I want those guys to be on teams because I know they’re good enough to play,” Watson said. “I hate to see them not be employed in the National Football League, where they should be, simply because they decided to protest and bring attention to systemic oppression, police brutality, injustice — all the things they stated over and over again, which I think are things that we all should be concerned about.”
As of Friday, Kaepernick has gone 572 days since his last snap in the NFL. Tellingly enough, he turned in one of his better performances in what might go down as his final game.
On New Year’s Day 2017, playing behind a leaky offensive line that left him running for his life (he was sacked five times), Kaepernick completed 17 of 22 passes for 215 yards and a touchdown in San Francisco’s 25-23 loss to Seattle. His 122.3 rating was the seventh highest of his 69 career games.
But the NFL would have you believe he’s not good enough to play in a league that will employ just under 100 quarterbacks this season, many of them older than Kaepernick (who is still more than three months shy of his 31st birthday, presumably just entering what should be his prime years) and lacking a resume that includes leading his team to the Super Bowl.
Of course, we all know the real reason Kaepernick has effectively been blacklisted from the league — his decision to first sit, then kneel during the national anthem throughout the 2016 season, sparking a debate that carried all the way to the White House.
Reid bravely joined Kaepernick in his stoic, symbolic gesture, and carried on the kneeling when his former teammate was sidelined for the entire 2016 season.
For that, he’s now paying the price.
Despite being beyond qualified for a spot in the NFL — 26 years old, a former first-round pick, a starter in 69 of 70 games over five years with the 49ers, 10 career interceptions, an average of 65 tackles per season, a Pro Bowler in 2013 — Reid has been deemed unworthy of employment by each and every one of the league’s 32 teams.
What makes the treatment of Kaepernick and Reid even more perplexing: The owners and their non-blacklisted players continue to be locked in a back-and-forth squabble over whether protesting during the anthem is a legitimate way to address social injustice in this country.
(Spoiler alert: It is.)
The issue remains a thorn in the league’s side, even after Kaepernick and Reid were cast aside.
“Nothing lasts forever, and this is coming close to lasting way too long,” Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown groaned.
Before there’s any more discussion about sitting or kneeling or staying in the locker room, the players — all of them, black and white — should demand justice for Kaepernick and Reid.
While both have filed collusion grievances, the NFL has lots of highly paid lawyers who will surely try to drag this thing out as long as possible, soaking up prime seasons they’ll never get back.
But all those players who are lucky enough to have a job, some of whom were just as visible and vocal in their calls for social justice, should be pondering what they can do to help get Kaepernick and Reid back on the field.
Maybe a one-day sickout during training camp. Or kneeling en masse before the first game. Perhaps, as a last resort, they should consider an actual strike.
Like Kaepernick and Reid, they need to be willing to make some huge sacrifices.
After all, they could be next.
AP Sports Writers Brett Martel in New Orleans and Joe Kay in Cincinnati contributed to this report.
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