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Whatever Jay-Z is selling, Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid isn’t buying

Eric Reid explains frustration with NFL’s response to protest

Eric Reid talks about protest
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Eric Reid talks about protest

Eric Reid dressed slowly, steeling himself to face an onslaught of questions about a poor preseason performance, only to find out when he turned around that the battle he has been fighting with the NFL was being waged on an entirely new front.

Reid’s reaction to a TMZ report that Jay-Z would become a part-owner of an NFL team as part of his new “partnership” with the NFL was many things: visceral, frustrated, despairing, disbelieving, angry.

What it lacked: surprise.

“It does fit in with the pattern,” Reid said.

It was entirely in keeping with the resistance the Carolina Panthers safety has faced, whether attempting to use his position in the football spotlight to protest against what he describes as systemic oppression and injustice, or advocating on behalf of his friend Colin Kaepernick, whose own activism toward the same ends has kept him out of the NFL.

If standing up for what you believe was easy, everyone would do it.

Reid has been confronted with roadblocks at every turn.

Whatever Jay-Z is selling, Reid isn’t buying.

“The NFL is hiding behind this black face, right?” Reid said. “The injustice that’s happened to Colin, they get to say, ‘Look, we care about social justice. We care about the black community because we’re with Jay-Z.’ Jay-Z is doing the work for them.”

Reid is, like any true believer, uncompromising. The unsparing force of his beliefs gives him credibility, but it also prevents him from seeing the other side, even when it might have some degree of alignment with his own. What others may see as attempts by sympathetic parties — whether that’s other NFL players or Jay-Z — to meet the NFL in the middle, he can only see as the league co-opting and neutralizing their impact.

But that doesn’t mean he’s wrong.

Reid mocked Jay-Z’s agreement with the NFL when it was announced Wednesday, but the TMZ report clearly added another dimension to his frustration. He wouldn’t go as far as calling Jay-Z a sellout, but he didn’t stop much short of that.

In this case, Reid and Kaepernick have run into a proto-capitalist who as an artist and promoter has always been able to smell money in the water, and there’s more than enough of it floating around within reach for Jay-Z to sense grand opportunity. Whether Jay-Z ends up owning a piece of a team or not, it’s hard to lose money doing business with the NFL.

The league is a behemoth with the money and power to steamroll just about anyone and anything in its way, as Kaepernick can attest. Reid expressed hope that Jay-Z would use his power as an owner, if that’s what happens, to bring Kaepernick into the league, but without much enthusiasm. He can see Jay-Z’s play from a long way away.

“Jay-Z knowingly made a money move,” Reid said. “He’s capitalized on the situation.”

Reid, like any activist, is secure in the courage of his convictions. He is not trying to make friends or win fans. Protest is supposed to be uncomfortable for the comfortable. If you don’t like him, he at least has your attention.

And the activist is by nature an underdog, which means he can walk off the field after a preseason game only to find out Jay-Z, of all people, has gone from avowed ally to actual antagonist. Sometimes, the boulder rolls back down the hill. And you start over again at the bottom, and try to push it back up.

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Sports columnist Luke DeCock has covered the Summer Olympics, the Final Four, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He joined The News & Observer in 2000 to cover the Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a columnist in 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has won multiple national and state awards for his columns and feature writing while twice being named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.