After the racially charged events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this month, San Francisco 49ers strong safety Eric Reid said he still did not plan to resume kneeling during the national anthem in protest of racial inequality in the United States.
Upon further consideration, Reid reversed course.
Before the 49ers' third preseason game on Sunday night, a 32-31 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, the NBC telecast showed Reid kneeling while surrounded by teammates, and broadcaster Al Michaels noted that Reid had done so during the national anthem.
"I just had a change of heart," Reid told reporters after the game. "A lot of thinking, a lot of praying, talking to Colin [Kaepernick]. When we started last year, if you recall, our goal was to raise awareness and shed light on the issues that were happening in our country. I think we accomplished that. What I was upset about was the false narratives that were being told about us, people were saying we're un-American, that we're against police entirely and the military. And that just wasn't true. At first, I thought that was a small sacrifice to pay to get the word out to raise awareness, and I settled with thinking that raising that awareness was victory.
"Then fast-forward to Charlottesville, and the country sees what an un-American protest really looks like. That's when I had my change of heart, because what Colin, Eli and I did was a peaceful protest fueled by faith in God to help make our country a better place. And I feel like I needed to regain control of that narrative and not let people say that what we're doing is un-American, because it's not. It's completely American. We're doing it because we want equality for everyone. We want our country to be a better place, so that's why I decided to resume the protest."
It was the first time this preseason that a 49er knelt during the anthem, after Reid, Harold and Kaepernick did so for the entire 2016 season. Reid said after the game that he intends to continue kneeling for the rest of this season, as well.
In the days after Reid made statements saying he wouldn't protest again, despite what happened in Charlottesville, Niners coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch said no player had approached them about taking part in a protest during the anthem. Both said they understood the reason for such protests, with Shanahan saying he would like a player planning to take part to let him know and discuss it with him in advance.
"He didn't tell me. He told our PR staff, so I was aware of it. I knew it was going to happen, but him and I never talked personally," Shanahan said Sunday night. "I've got no issue with it. Everyone is able to go out and do what they want to do. I heard about it before the game but not even worth talking about. I had to get ready for the game."
Lynch had initially said such protests could be divisive, but later in the week, he said he regretted using that word and again said he respects and understands the protests.
Although none of Reid's teammates elected to join him in kneeling, Reid said he appreciated those who surrounded him as he did.
"A lot of guys said they wanted to show support," Reid said. "I believe a lot of guys were standing with me, just putting their hands on my shoulders, and that means a lot. I know the anthem means a lot of things to different people, so some guys don't feel comfortable kneeling, even though I say it a million more times: It's not about being against the military, but if that's how they feel, that's completely fine. I will never pressure anybody to take a knee. That's just my way of doing it. But it means a lot that they want to show support by standing with me."
Reid first began kneeling with Kaepernick before the team's final preseason game last year in San Diego. But Reid said repeatedly in the offseason that he would refrain from the anthem protest this season, and he reiterated recently that he had other ideas this year.
"I think, for me, the anthem thing went so sideways. It kills me that it went the way it went, because that's not how we intended it to be," Reid said on Aug. 14. "You guys know what we were trying to get accomplished with that.
"But I think, for me, personally, [I'll] just keep talking about it, whether that's social media or you guys talking to me or whatever events I can make it out to during the season, just to keep raising awareness on different topics to hopefully make that change that we're talking about."
Reid has kept in close contact with Kaepernick throughout the offseason and has kept tabs on Kaepernick's ongoing job pursuits. He also attended Kaepernick's "Know Your Rights" camps in Chicago and New York.
During the second quarter of Sunday's game, Reid gave another acknowledgement to Kaepernick. After a big hit on Adam Thielen to stop the Vikings receiver 2 yards short on third down, Reid ran forward and kissed his biceps, which is Kaepernick's signature touchdown celebration.
Reid, who is scheduled to become a free agent after the season, said he considered the possibility that his protest could keep him out of a job, like Kaepernick currently is, but it was a risk he believes is worth taking.
"This has been fueled by my faith in God. That's the only reason I do it," Reid said. "You can't serve faith and money. So if I'm not on a team next year, I'll be at home unhappy that I'm not on a team, but I'll be satisfied knowing that I did what I believe is right -- and that's being a voice for the voiceless and standing up for the oppressed."