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‘This is about systemic oppression’: Eric Reid becomes the voice of 49ers’ protest with criticism of Pence

49ers kneel during the playing of the national anthem in Indianapolis. (Michael Conroy / Associated Press)
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Eric Reid took a knee Sunday during the national anthem, just as he has most of the time since his former teammate, Colin Kaepernick, first drew attention for doing so during the San Francisco 49ers’ preseason games of 2016.

No one expected Reid, a safety, to do anything else and he did not surprise anyone Sunday when he joined 15-20 of his 49ers teammates who knelt before the game against the Indianapolis Colts in Lucas Oil Stadium. And that was about the last normal thing that happened as far as the anthem there was concerned.

Vice President Pence and his wife walked out of Lucas Oil Stadium, saying in part in a statement that he would “not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our national anthem.” That decision, which President Trump tweeted came at his direction, put the spotlight squarely on Reid, who, like many players, is seeking to clarify his message. With Kaepernick becoming a free agent in March, it is now left to Reid to speak up, and he called Pence’s departure “a PR stunt,” adding “this is about systemic oppression.”

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“I’ve spoken to you all previously about controlling the narrative. And that’s what we’ll do,” Reid, who counts Kaepernick among his friends, told reporters in the locker room after the 49ers’ overtime loss. “If I need to say it every time ya’ll ask me, this is not about the military, this is not about the flag, this is not about the anthem. My mother served in the armed forces. Three of my uncles served in the armed forces. In fact, my mom would have went to the Persian Gulf War if she wasn’t pregnant with me.

“I have the utmost respect for the military, for the anthem, for the flag. So I will say that every time ya’ll interview me. This is about systemic oppression that has been rampant in this country for decades on top of decades. And I will continue to say and encourage people to educate themselves of how we got to where are today, because it didn’t happen overnight. And it’s not going to happen overnight to fix these issues, so we’re going to keep talking about it.

“I know that I will keep doing what I feel is necessary to use the platform that I have to make those changes. It’s really disheartening when everything that you were raised on, everything that I was raised on, was to be the best person I can be, to help people that need help, and the vice president of the United States is trying to confuse the message that we’re trying to put out there. I don’t know what else to say about it.”

Reid, 25, did not play Sunday because of a knee injury and, despite a command from Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones that players respect the flag or they will be benched, Reid believes the message players are sending about social injustice and racial inequality is working.

“I think we are reaching people, and there’s another handful of people who chose not to hear us. Those people, you can’t change their mind — they’ll never listen to you, you’ll never win with them,” Reid told Dieter Kurtenbach of the Mercury News. “We just need to keep the conversation going. When an opportunity presents itself to elect somebody into office at the state and national level, then we have to take advantage of those opportunities and put people in place who are going to do what we need done to fix these issues.”

Reid stood for the anthem preceding the first two preseason games, but bent a knee after violence in August claimed the life of a woman in Charlottesville. He explained then that his decision to kneel again was based on a narrative that was being co-opted.

“What I was upset about was the false narrative being told about us. People were saying that we’re un-American, that we were against police entirely. And that just wasn’t true. At first, I thought that was a small sacrifice to pay to get the word out, to raise that awareness. And I settled with thinking raising that awareness was victory.

“Then fast forward to Charlottesville and people see what an un-American protest really looks like. What Colin and Eli [Harold] and I did was peaceful protest fueled by faith in God to help make our country a better place. And I feel like I need to regain control of that narrative and not let people say what we’re doing is un-American. Because it’s not. It’s completely American. We’re doing it because want equality for everybody. We want our country to be a better place.”

Read more on the NFL:

‘I can’t sugarcoat it. I’m devastated’: J.J. Watt on his season-ending injury

Trump says he directed Pence to walk out of Colts game if players demonstrated during national anthem

Aaron Rodgers gets the last laugh again in Dallas and leaves the Cowboys reeling