David Tepper is the key to making the NFL a progressive league. On Thursday, David Tepper and the Carolina Panthers made a bold move to be on the right side of history when they signed free-agent safety Eric Reid. David Tepper is the new owner of the Panthers, who took ownership in May of this year. Eric Reid was Colin Kaepernick’s teammate on the San Francisco 49ers. He was the first football player to join Kaepernick in kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality. Once Reid’s rookie contract expired, he was not re-signed by the 49ers or any other team. This left many to question why no team had picked him up.
Reid was a 2013 first round draft pick who lived up to the expectations and became a Pro-Bowl safety. He dominated his position each season he played and was injury free. There was no football-related reason for Reid not be signed. Since there was no football-related reason, many believed that Reid’s continued free-agency was due to his activism. Kaepernick had already been “blackballed” from the league for his protest. It appeared that Reid was suffering the same consequence. Reid, like Kaepernick, filed a grievance against the NFL for collusion. The grievance alleged that the league and/or the team owners conspired to keep Reid out of the league.
All of this changed on Thursday when the Panther’s announced that they signed Eric Reid. In the midst of his grievance against the NFL, Reid’s signing came as a shock to many. Reid was overlooked the entire summer and preseason. This leaves one question. What changed to lead to Reid’s signing on Thursday?
David Tepper is What Changed to lead to Eric Reid’s Signing
In just these short months since taking over the Panthers in May, David Tepper has already asserted himself as probably the most progressive NFL owner. From the beginning, Tepper made small changes that he knew Panther’s fans had long awaited. He removed the NFL shield at center-field and changed the logo to a panther. Also under Tepper, the team unveiled a new uniform. With these changes, Tepper alerted everyone to the fact that change was afoot in the Panthers organization.
While those changes were bold statements, Tepper took it a step further early in September when he stood up for players who participate in the national anthem protest in an interview on CNBC. Tepper called the players patriotic and acknowledged that the protest was an effort to seek “justice for all.”
On Thursday, Tepper put those words into action when he signed Eric Reid to replace the recently injured Da’Norris Searcy. Instead of overlooking a clearly qualified Eric Reid and attempting to make unfounded football-related excuses not to sign him, Tepper and the Panthers did the right and most sensible thing and hired the best man for the job.
Moves such as speaking out in support of the players right to protest and signing a player who was arguably being “blackballed” by the rest of the teams and the league are what makes Tepper the league’s most progressive owner. Tepper may be just what the league needs to finally become a more progressive and inclusive entity. He listened to the wants of the players and fans when he changed the center-field logo and unveiled new uniforms. Accordingly, Tepper showed the ability to put football first when he signed Eric Reid.
Was Reid Signed as a Defense to the Collusion Grievance?
Some may argue that Reid was signed to help the NFL battle their collusion grievance against him and Kaepernick. However, Reid being signed is not likely to help the NFL’s defense in the grievances. To be successful Reid only has to show “that there was an agreement or formal understanding between at least two teams or the NFL and one team not to sign him.”[i] Therefore, the Panthers signing him does not negate the possibility that other teams and/or the NFL may have agreed not to sign him.
The Future of Athlete Activism and the NFL
Tepper is just the kind of owner that the NFL needs moving forward. In this new wave of athlete activism and athletes seeking to establish an identity separate from their athletic prowess, the NFL has to decide how to adjust to these trends while maintaining viewership (which should not be a huge problem if willing; the NBA has somehow figured it out). With LeBron James‘ success with the I Promise School, and as a film producer and the reverence of NFL Players like Kenny Stills to continue to kneel in spite of what happened to Kaepernick, it seems that the “more than an athlete” movement is here to stay. Tepper’s actions so far have shown that he embraces these trends and is just what the NFL needs to become more progressive.
[i] Michael McCann, How Eric Reid Can Win His Collusion Grievance Against the NFL…and How the NFL Can Win, Sports Illustrated (May 2, 2018), https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/05/02/eric-reid-nfl-collusion-grievance.