Scott Fowler

What Panthers’ Eric Reid said Monday ensures this: All eyes will be on him Sunday

For any NFL fan who wishes that Eric Reid would just shut up and play football: Forget about it.

The new Carolina Panthers safety held one of the most unusual player press conferences in franchise history on Monday, speaking passionately about both “systemic oppression” and NFL coverage schemes.

Reid not only didn’t stick to sports in the way almost every press conference at Bank of America Stadium does; he also began one answer by talking about slavery in the 1600s.

As to whether he will kneel in Charlotte during the national anthem Sunday just before 1 p.m. before his first game in a Panthers uniform, Reid wouldn’t say.

“I’ll make that decision later,” Reid said.

Reid said a whole lot besides that, however. Reid obviously feels strongly about the issue of African-American empowerment, and he doesn’t care if his outspokenness costs him fans, endorsements or even a job down the line.

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“I’ll put it this way: Next year will be 2019,” Reid said. “It will mark 400 years since the first slaves touched the soil in this country. That’s 400 years of systemic oppression — that’s slavery, Jim Crow, new Jim Crow, mass incarceration, you name it.

“The Great Depression: They come out with the New Deal, black people didn’t have access to those government stimulus packages. The New Deal set up what is known as the modern-day middle class. We didn’t have access to those programs — the G.I. Bill, social security, home loans, none of that.

“So this has been happening since my people have gotten here. And so I just felt the need to say something about it.”

You may argue with some of the details in that quote, but after listening to Reid in person, I have no doubt he is genuine about what he feels.

Reid is both a football player and an activist. The Panthers are concerned more about the first part of that sentence than the second – they need him to be a very good football player, because it’s quite likely he will start Sunday. But they are OK with the activism too, or they would have never signed him in the first place last week once injuries depleted the secondary once again.

‘A great signing’

Said Panthers center Ryan Kalil, one of the team’s captains: “I thought it was a great signing. He’s a good football player. We need help at safety and we got better on defense with him.”

Would this move have been made if Jerry Richardson still owned the team instead of new owner David Tepper? Panthers coach Ron Rivera wouldn’t answer that question, and Kalil wouldn’t offer an opinion either.

“I don’t know,” Kalil said. “I know it’s a move Marty (Hurney, the Panthers general manager) made. I know it’s a move nobody has a problem with.”

Said cornerback Captain Munnerlyn: “Everybody outside’s talking about, ‘Oh man, what’s he going to do when the national anthem (plays)?’ … We’re not worried about that. We’re worried about winning football games and this guy definitely can contribute to us winning games.”

Reid wore a T-shirt to his first Panthers press conference that read #IMWITHKAP — a reference to his friendship with former San Francisco teammate and fellow protester Colin Kaepernick.

Kaepernick, once a standout NFL quarterback, remains unsigned this season. Both men have filed collusion grievances against the NFL, contending that some NFL teams have conspired against them to keep them from getting offered a contract and/or a chance to realize their full value as unrestricted NFL free agents. Reid said his collusion grievance will continue “without a doubt” despite the one-year deal he signed the Panthers.

‘A powerful experience’

Reid also ripped the Players Coalition, an NFL-funded group that includes a number of current NFL players and addresses social-justice issues.

“The Players Coalition is an NFL-funded subversion group,” Reid said. “That’s why I removed myself from them and will keep moving forward with Colin.”

What is Reid’s primary focus? What exactly is he protesting, whether he kneels on Sunday or not?

“My main goal is to empower my people,” Reid said. “Colin Kaepernick and I have done numerous events in the community recently. We went to the Lower East Side Girls Club in Harlem, which was a powerful experience because I have two daughters, and to see programs they have in place for the youth in the inner city is just amazing. ... Our goal is to use our platform to empower our people not only open the door for us, but to build our own building and have our own door.”

Reid said in March that he was “going to consider different ways to be active” besides kneeling during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” a move that created a firestorm.

“I don’t think it will be in the form of protesting during the anthem,” Reid said then.

Monday, though, Reid wouldn’t rule out kneeling. And it sounds like most if not all of the people who work at Bank of America Stadium don’t know what he’s going to do Sunday before the game, either.

In either case, the Panthers just got a lot more interesting — both from a football and a “cultural” significance standpoint. Inside and outside the lines, the Panthers just hired a guy who will be fascinating to watch.