Update, 9/27: They did.
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Torrey Smith thinks his team should sign long-time friend and free agent safety, Eric Reid. Smith said so Tuesday in tweets and comments, and he makes a strong football argument. Reid is an all-pro. He’s in his prime. He’s liked by teammates. And, oh yes, he plays a position of significant need for the Panthers.
Smith also is right about something else: Eric Reid kneeled next to Colin Kaepernick on the San Francisco 49ers sideline during the national anthem last August. “I think we all know why he hasn’t received a call,” Smith said.
Let’s leave the football argument, strong as it is, to Smith and others. The Panthers signing Reid not only would be the right thing for the team, but also the franchise and NFL. Panthers owner David Tepper, who surely understands all these things, should get Reid on the next plane to Charlotte for a workout.
What would happen if he did? Some fans would get mad. Maybe a few would burn their jerseys on social media. They would be some of the same fans who overreacted to Tepper’s defense of the his players’ patriotism this month and wrongly assumed that Tepper is steering the team toward kneeling for the anthem.
But just as many fans would see the signing of Reid for what it was — a good football and business move that also was the right thing to do.
Remember how Nike was going to lose all those customers by signing Colin Kaepernick as the lead in a new ad campaign this summer? Turns out that the company’s revenue has surged and the brand’s new spots have resulted in record engagement. There’s a reason for that: Even if fans are iffy about kneeling for the anthem, many nevertheless support athletes who use their platform to speak out about social justice issues. Or maybe they just realize it’s OK to disagree.
It’s why NBA players such as LeBron James and Chris Paul remain immensely popular despite being vocal about social issues. It’s also why the NBA has become a model for understanding how everyone — players and teams — can play a meaningful role in their communities.
Who doesn’t see that? Tepper’s fellow NFL owners. Yes, teams and players give time and money to charitable efforts, but now more than ever, the NFL has become a league of old white owners who either don’t share their players’ social concerns or are afraid to acknowledge that this is all much more complicated than dissing the flag. The result is that the kneeling issue has been mishandled from the start, and it still leaves owners cornered and players like Eric Reid blackballed.
Tepper tried to break through that with his defense of his players this month. He should go a step further, pursue Reid, and send a necessary jolt throughout the league. Will there be grumbling? Yes. But the best — and maybe the only — way past this issue is to let some people get mad, then let everyone get back to cheering an all-pro on the football field.