Carolina Panthers receiver Torrey Smith says NFL owners reopened a national anthem debate that had all but died off with a “reactive” policy that paints Colin Kaepernick and other protesters as “villains.”
Expanding on thoughts he shared in a tweet last week after the new policy was approved in Atlanta, Smith said he was disappointed in the decision by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the league’s owners.
“You’re disappointed but not surprised, because at the end of the day, the league is all about money. It’s a business,” Smith said Tuesday after the Panthers’ OTA practice. “But to try to silence guys when they’re trying to do the right thing for our country, I don’t really know what to say about it.”
Smith, an NFL veteran who signed with the Panthers during the off-season, is frustrated that players protesting police brutality and racial inequality are now viewed as being anti-military or anti-American.
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“Guys aren’t against the military. … Kap originally started as against police brutality,” Smith said. “It was never against the military. It was never about the military. But that narrative changed.”
Smith applauded the NFL for its charitable donations and other work in the “oppressed areas of our country and the underprivileged areas.”
But he believes the league sent a different message last week with a policy that requires players to stand if they’re on the field during the national anthem while giving them the option to remain in the locker room.
Teams whose players choose to sit or kneel during the anthem will be subject to fines. Teams can in turn fine players and other personnel for violating the policy.
“You do that (charitable work in underprivileged areas) and then you’re also telling your guys to stand up when they’re protesting, when honestly I thought it was about died off in a lot of different ways,” Smith said. “You have the league putting this in and it almost makes it seem like a guy like Kaepernick or Eric Reid or the guys who started originally, that what they did was in vain, like they were villains. And that’s not the case.”
Smith, 29, won a Super Bowl ring last season with the Philadelphia Eagles, arguably the NFL’s most socially active team.
Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins has long been a strong supporter of Kaepernick's, who began the protest movement in 2016. Jenkins also is a member of the Players Coalition, a group that last week finalized a partnership with the NFL to dedicate nearly $90 million toward efforts to combat social injustice.
Smith was among a group of Eagles players last fall who met with Goodell and Philadelphia city leaders to discuss racial inequality issues. Smith, Jenkins and a couple of other Eagles players also visited with the city’s police commissioner and spent more than an hour watching bail hearings, according to a January article in The Guardian.
Smith takes issue with sentencing disparities based on race and would like to see more rehabilitation programs as an alternative to prison or jail.
Smith knows firsthand how difficult it can be for persons charged with a crime to turn their lives around: His mother is a convicted felon.
“It was hard for us growing up because of bad decisions she made. But fortunately she was given a second chance and got her rights back,” Smith said. “And she was able to go from barely above the poverty line to all of a sudden she’s able to make six figures because she continued to educate herself and continued to work.”
As for the anthem debate, Smith hates that the social activism by players such as Kaepernick and Reid — both of whom remain unsigned — has been reduced to something else.
“The whole reason guys were protesting was to draw awareness to something,” he said.
“And to take that away and be, ‘Hey, don’t do that anymore, you’re anti-American or something,’ like people try to paint it as, it’s very frustrating to continue to see that false narrative.”