By Sean Gregory
September 28, 2018

The Carolina Panthers hired free agent safety Eric Reid on Thursday, which on a normal news day might have sent the cable news shows into a tizzy (they were otherwise preoccupied).

Reid, you may remember, is very close friends with Colin Kaepernick. So close, in fact, that he introduced Kaepernick when the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, and current Nike pitchman, received Amnesty International’s highest honor, the Ambassador of Conscience Award, in April. Back in 2016, Reid was the first NFL player to join Kaepernick in keeling during the national anthem, as a sign of protest against social injustices in the United States. Reid continued to protest last season. Such demonstrations have sparked intense controversy, as many people consider anything but standing during the anthem a sign of disrespect to the military. Some owners insist the protests have hurt the NFL’s popularity. President Trump regularly rails against anthem demonstrations; players have repeatedly made clear that they respect American troops.

No team signed Reid, a Pro Bowler in 2013, this offseason. In May, Reid filed a grievance against against the NFL. Last year Kaepernick lodged a similar legal complaint, charging the teams effectively blacklisted him because of his protests.

Now Reid will play again (though he reportedly won’t drop his legal action). That’s good news, because his absence from NFL sidelines never made much sense. Reid was a productive player last season; he finished 2017 with 67 tackles, two interceptions and four passes defensed before becoming a free agent in March. His 17 passes defended between 2015 and 2017 put him on the same statistical level as defensive backs who were making more than $5 million per year. Why hadn’t any team picked him up? Hmmmm.

So there’s no need to praise the Panthers for making some kind of courageous decision by signing Reid. Starting safety Da’Norris Searcy, who’s suffered two concussions over a 30-day period, was placed on injured reserve. Carolina needed help in the secondary. The Panthers made a highly sensible football move. Reid should have been signed by someone months ago.

New Panthers owner David Tepper, who bought the team in July from franchise founding owner Jerry Richardson for $2.275 billion, approved the Reid signing. (Richardson decided to sell the team after a Sports Illustrated story revealed accusations of sexual harassment and racist behavior against him; in June, the NFL fined Richardson $2.75 million for sexual and racial workplace misconduct.) Richardson was critical of the anthem protests. “Politicizing the game is dangerous,” he said in a statement last September.

Tepper supports the right of players to protest. In an interview with CNBC, he said the notion that protesting players were unpatriotic, “was the biggest pile of bull-dinky ever.”

The Panthers tweeted out a picture Thursday of Reid signing his contract while he raised his fist. (The team added three fist emojis of its own). If Reid continues to protest during the anthem with the Panthers — who play their next game on Oct. 7, when they host the New York Giants — expect the President Trump to call Reid out on Twitter. Trump repeatedly employs this tactic. Politicizing the NFL plays well with his supporters.

But Panthers fans will keep cheering, especially if Reid helps them win. In signing a talented free agent, Carolina summoned no bravery. Just common sense.

Write to Sean Gregory at sean.gregory@time.com.

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