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By signing Eric Reid, Panthers score big on and off the field

Football was a consideration, but in the social media age, playing to new audiences is the new normal

In a photograph with his right fist raised while sitting behind a Carolina Panthers helmet resting on a table, safety Eric Reid greeted the world from the headquarters of his new NFL home last week. A pen rested in his left hand to sign a one-year contract that few imagined a team would offer. On Monday he talked with the media, saying his fight against social injustice isn’t over and he’ll not drop his collusion case against the NFL.

Circumstances undoubtedly forced him to contemplate a glum fate — that his career ended at 26 with years of productive football in his body. His fortunes suddenly lifted when the Panthers, now owned by David Tepper, granted him another opportunity, one that should have found him long ago.

ESPN reporter Josina Anderson credited the Panthers franchise for signing Reid. “Let us take a moment to recognize,” she tweeted, “the courage and fortitude of #Panthers ownership and the front office staff and head coach Ron Rivera for signing an obvious talent in an area of obvious need. Pretty simple to do the right football thing.” Others on social media heralded the Panthers, outwardly thanking the team for doing the right thing for a wronged man.

I think differently. I refrained from lauding the franchise for doing what any team in need should have done months before. I dismissively shrugged my shoulders and recalled a famous joke Chris Rock told about a, shall we say, certain type of man who chases brownie points for mundane accomplishments.

Praise teams who sign Reid and others as a means of positive reinforcement. Tweet to widen the lane of opportunity for protesting players.

The Panthers determined the team needed help at the safety position and signed the best one still available. Why give the Panthers credit for doing what they should be doing? Did members of the Panthers’ front office even want the credit? If they did, for what?

But I considered the matter for a few days. I thought about Colin Kaepernick still not having a job. I thought about other players, particularly Miami Dolphins wideout Kenny Stills, who signed a four-year deal in March 2017 that is more like a two-year deal that ends after this season. Will he occupy a roster spot next year? Like many, I want these players on the field and for their fight for racial justice not to be considered a demerit on their records. What can people who care about the future of these athletes do to bolster their employability?

And I arrived at the answer: Praise teams that sign Reid and others as a means of positive reinforcement. Tweets to widen the lane of opportunity for protesting players. The men and distressingly few women who make up NFL front offices are like any other humans — they enjoy reading good reviews of themselves. That the Panthers are now receiving this adulation increases the likelihood that other teams will sign similar players because they feel confident a broad segment of the population will compliment them.

This is particularly necessary in light of the many fans and political agitators who might condemn teams for signing racially engaged athletes. The adulation from those who support these players and their forms of protest and civic engagement can counteract this negativity.

Typically, American capitalism indulges anti-black backlash instead of standing up to it because there is usually more money on that side. Confronting racism often incites financial penalty, as Reid and Kaepernick know firsthand. Many businesses, like many people, are loath to suffer that injury.

But when Nike decided to sign Kaepernick to a top-of-the-line deal and elevate him as a spokesman for a heavily financed media campaign, the shoe conglomerate signaled to other companies that such athletes can bolster, not undermine, the bottom line. Nike’s market value soared by $6 billion in the wake of the campaign, corroborating their claim.

So tell the Panthers how inspired and astute the move to acquire Reid was and kindly remind them they might want to improve their backup quarterback situation — Cam Newton takes too many hits.

Brando Simeo Starkey is an associate editor at Andscape and the author of In Defense of Uncle Tom: Why Blacks Must Police Racial Loyalty. He crawled through a river of books and came out brilliant on the other side.