Carolina Panthers strong safety Eric Reid was ruled against by an arbitrator this week in his grievance against the Cincinnati Bengals. Reid alleged that owner Mike Brown declined to extend a contract offer after Reid was asked whether he would continue to disrespect the national anthem (by kneeling). The NFL players association sided with Reid as what a player does during the national anthem was not covered by the collective bargaining agreement (no one thought somebody would be selfish enough to do so back then). The Bengals did not deny Reid’s contention, but argued they were entitled to ask the question as part of the hiring process. The arbitrator agreed.
As noted in an earlier blog post, Reid’s employability is (and was) metered by NFL clubs by measuring the gain (in wins) in hiring him against the loss (in customer goodwill and dollars) of counting an anthem-disrespecter among all the players on the roster. The Panthers’ calculations had Reid falling on the side of more wins and as a result he was offered a contract a month into the 2018-2019 season. Reid plays strong safety.
Reid is protesting police brutality against blacks and inequality in general by kneeling during the national anthem. A number of sports pundits, Hollywood notables, and other athletes (black and not black) have supported his efforts to draw attention to the matter.
The movement to disrespect the anthem for political purposes originated with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick turned down a couple veteran’s minimum offers to play backup and instead filed a grievance against the NFL for alleged collusion. An arbitrator recently ruled in Kaepernick’s favor by granting a trial.
The NFL, after considerable off season internal debate, elected to not take an official stand against anthem-disrespecting, and instead informally asked players who wished to protest to stay in the locker room during the anthem instead of grandstanding on the field. The majority of player protesters have acquiesced to this request; Reid is among those who have not.
Standing for the national anthem is mandatory in the Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, and National Hockey League collective bargaining agreements with their players. It is not so in the NFL’s CBA with the NFLPA. Some NFL clubs have quietly made it clear that anthem-disrespecting was not acceptable. Others have steered away from the debate.