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Colin Kaepernick calls out the NFL’s social justice gestures as ‘propaganda’

San Francisco teammates Colin Kaepernick (7) and Eric Reid (35) kneel during the national anthem before a game in 2016. (Mike McCarn/AP)
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During the NFL’s first Sunday of football, while the league was making a number of social justice gestures, Colin Kaepernick dismissed its efforts as “propaganda” and accused the league of “blackballing” safety Eric Reid.

Kaepernick’s former teammate with the San Francisco 49ers, Reid was one of the first players to kneel alongside the quarterback during the national anthem to protest racism and police brutality. Reid has remained a close friend and, with Kaepernick unwillingly out of the NFL since the 2016 season, his closest ally within the league.

Now, however, Reid is also on the outside looking in, as he is still a free agent despite playing effectively for the Carolina Panthers over the past two seasons. As Kaepernick noted Sunday, the 28-year-old safety set Panthers records last year for his position with 130 tackles and four sacks.

“While the NFL runs propaganda about how they care about Black Life, they are still actively blackballing Eric Reid (@E_Reid35) for fighting for the Black community,” Kaepernick wrote on Twitter, at around the time the NFL’s 1 p.m. games — including a close loss by Carolina — were wrapping up. “Eric set 2 franchise records last year, and is one of the best defensive players in the league.”

When the Panthers signed Reid in September 2018, it was a few weeks into that season and several months after the NFL Players Association filed a grievance with the league on his behalf over his unemployment. The NFL settled that grievance, along with one that had been filed earlier by Kaepernick, in February 2019 for undisclosed terms.

While neither Kaepernick nor Reid were on NFL rosters Sunday, they nonetheless made appearances in uniform at every NFL stadium, in a video the league showed before its Week 1 games. The video featured a performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a song often described as the Black national anthem, with scenes interspersed of NFL players staging pregame demonstrations.

On the first NFL Sunday of the pandemic, a mix of silence, protests and unfamiliar scenes

Among the scenes the NFL included was one of Kaepernick and Reid kneeling during the anthem before a 2016 49ers game. There was also a close-up of Kaepernick’s face showing a solemn expression as he knelt, and at another point, an NFL player was shown walking with a man wearing a shirt with an image of a black fist emerging from Kaepernick’s Afro.

The NFL also had the phrases “End Racism” and “It Takes All of Us” painted on its end zones in Week 1.

“The league is committed to integrating important causes vital to players and fans, such as social justice, among others, throughout the season,” the NFL said in a statement. It is using “It Takes All of Us” as the title of a season-long campaign that aims to leverage “the scale and power of the league to unite the country during a critical time in our nation.”

Amid the nationwide protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in June that his league was “wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.” He added, “We, the National Football League, believe Black lives matter.”

The NFL quickly followed those statements with a pledge to contribute $250 million over 10 years to programs that address racial injustice, and Goodell in August said he wished the NFL had “listened earlier” to the message Kaepernick was sending with his protests during the anthem.

For anyone who wants to watch Kaepernick play football, though, the only way for now will be via the latest installment of the “Madden” video game series. He shared a tweet last week that quoted EA Sports, the company that produces “Madden,” as saying in a statement, “Colin Kaepernick is one of the top free agents in football and a starting-caliber quarterback.”