In a first-person account on Sports Illustrated, a former Carolina Panther writes that he thinks a national anthem gesture he made during a game cost him his job.
Safety Marcus Ball was originally signed as a free agent by Carolina in May 2015 and was waived four months later. He returned to the team in another free-agent signing in February 2016. He stuck with the Panthers that time, despite a brief demotion to the practice squad. Ball played in one game in the 2016 season – the Panthers’ second home game against Minnesota.
Ball wrote a piece that appeared in Peter King’s popular Monday Morning Quarterback feature and said he stood for the anthem before that game, which would be his first NFL regular-season appearance since the 2014 season, when he played 12 games for New Orleans and recorded 16 tackles at defensive back.
During the anthem, Ball said he held his index finger in the air, a gesture he feels proved to end his time in Carolina. The game was played in September 2016, just weeks after quarterback Colin Kaepernick began to attract national attention by kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality in the black community.
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“I stood. I honored the flag,” Ball writes. “I prayed. I sang. But I also acknowledged the protests and recent events that had been building around the country and recently in Charlotte. (That very week, a black man, Keith Lamont Scott, had been fatally shot by a police officer in the city.) During the anthem, I made a gesture, holding up my right hand with my index finger pointing toward the sky to God. I didn’t realize it, but I was the only guy on the team to make any sort of gesture that day. There was nothing organized; I didn’t discuss anything with anyone. It was just in my heart that day to thank God for the opportunity and to reflect on the excitement that had built up inside me. Maybe I was extra emotional that day, dressing for the first time for a city and team I learned to love.”
Two days after the game, and his gesture, Ball was waived and later sent to the practice squad.
“I walked into the facility, walked upstairs and, as I expected, I was told I was being released and my contract was being terminated,” he writes. “I questioned the motives immediately. I had put in a lot of work for the organization, and now I was being abruptly released? “Why? What did I do?” I asked. I didn’t get much of an answer.”
Ball said he asked and was told Panthers owner Jerry Richardson had nothing to do with his release. Ball was terminated from the practice squad in October 2016.
“I had my doubts,” said Ball, who played five games with San Francisco in the 2016 season and won a CFL Grey Cup championship with Toronto in November. “I know Richardson didn’t want players following Colin Kaepernick’s lead and protesting. I knew he didn’t want players wearing dreadlocks, which I did. Same for sporting tattoos. But what could I do? I was a practice-squad player. On my level, you don’t challenge the Boss Man.”
Ball said all these feelings came rushing back to him when he read about the allegations against Richardson, which may have led to him selling the team when the season ends. Those allegations include, according to a Sports Illustrated story, Richardson using a racial slur towards an African-American scout.
“We know that if even if Jerry Richardson sells the team immediately, the NFL investigation continues. Which it should,” Ball writes. “A lot of people have their questions, and they deserve answers. But I do, too. I feel like I was screwed out of a job, a career and my lifelong dream, because … why? The owner doesn’t want a black player raising a finger? I know he’s the boss. But is that fair?”