Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick drew headlines when he decided to kneel for the national anthem in 2016 as a way to protest racial injustice and police brutality in America.
While Kaepernick was the first player to kneel for the anthem, he was joined by his teammate, safety Eric Reid, soon after. And while Kaepernick has not played in the NFL since that season, Reid spent the last two seasons playing for the Carolina Panthers under now-Washington head coach Ron Rivera.
Racial injustice and police brutality have been at the forefront of society over the past week following the shooting of Jacob Blake. On Thursday, Washington canceled it's FedEx Field practice to hold a social justice meeting, one that discussed current events in society and gave players the platform to discuss what they've been thinking about the past few days.
During that meeting, Rivera said it was Reid who opened the head coach's eyes to a lot of the systemic issues Black people face in America every day.
"One of the things I told our players today is I had a player in Carolina that made a tremendous impact on me, and that's Eric Reid," Rivera told local media via Zoom. "The biggest thing that happened there is I listened more so than I did anything else.
"The thing I'm learning now is just to listen to the guys, listen to their feelings," Rivera said. "Really, it helps to understand when you just focus in on just them, just their thought process. We have a lot of things going through our minds, but during those moments today I really just focused in on what the guys were saying."
Washington was one of many teams to put their current plans on pause to address social issues, both in the NFL and outside of it.
On Wednesday, multiple NBA teams refused to take the court as a way to protest. All games through Friday have been postponed, with the league hoping to resume its season this weekend. Multiple Major League Baseball contests have been postponed over the next couple of days. The NHL has postponed all games through Friday, too.
In Washington's meeting on Thursday, there was one specific moment that really stood out to the head coach. At one point, an unnamed white player admitted that when he gets pulled over, he's only worried about finding his driver's license.
That player's Black teammates, unfortunately, cannot say the same.
Earlier this summer, Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins shared a story of when he was pulled over, saying how scared he was at the time.
"I get pulled over sometimes and I get scared, because I get questioned and I get asked crazy things when I get pulled over," Haskins said. "I get pulled over and they ask if I'm selling drugs, if there's something in the car they need to worry about. Playing quarterback for a football team in the NFL, you think you wouldn't get asked those type of questions, but it's just the world we live in."
For Rivera, seeing his players show raw emotion about the societal issues they face on a day-by-day basis really stuck out to him.
"We have a lot of things going through our minds, but during those moments today I really just focused in on what the guys were saying," Rivera said. "It was really a tremendous thing to listen to, to their feelings. You come away realizing and recognizing that these are young men that shouldn't have to worry about these types of things, and unfortunately, they do. It's something that needs to be corrected so people can go about their lives in a manner where they're free, where they truly are free of having any fear of anything."
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