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No training camp, no problem: Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid get big cheers at US Open

Both former 49ers were in the house to watch Serena and Venus Williams face off

Not everybody in sports is a big fan of Colin Kaepernick, but tennis fans certainly are.

Friday night, Kaepernick and Eric Reid were both at Arthur Ashe Stadium, where they watched Serena Williams defeat her sister Venus, 6-1, 6-2, to advance to the round of 16 at the US Open. It was the 30th time the sisters have met in competition, and the house was quiet for most of the match, although the crowd rallied behind both sisters.

However, Kaepernick might have drawn the biggest cheer of the night.

The closed-circuit arena cam panned and lingered on Kaepernick, who was met with enthusiastic cheers. His Afro billowed out, forming a cloud around his head. The quarterback, now best known for kneeling during the national anthem to protest police killings of unarmed black people, was in attendance with his girlfriend, Nessa Diab. They both raised their fists to give the black power salute, and the crowd roared. The camera then panned to Reid, Kaepernick’s San Francisco 49ers teammate who’d joined him in kneeling in protest.

Kaepernick tweeted that he and Reid brought his niece to see the Williams sisters play. But perhaps the men were also taking in a little tennis as they enjoy a public victory tour, as good news concerning their protracted legal battles with the NFL finally landed in their laps Friday. Hours before the Williams sisters’ match, news broke that arbitrator Stephen Burbank denied the NFL’s request for a summary judgment in Kaepernick’s case against them. That means that Kaepernick’s complaint that NFL teams colluded to keep him unemployed because of his insistence on kneeling during the national anthem is now going to trial. It also means that Burbank’s refusal to dismiss the case means there’s significant evidence that NFL owners targeted him for punishment because of his protests. Reid has a separate but similar legal complaint against the league. The decision has huge implications. If the league is found to be in violation of its collective bargaining agreement with players, the players can exercise the option to terminate it. Players and owners have yet to reach an agreement about how to handle the kneeling protests.

In a postmatch news conference, Serena Williams admitted that she missed the moment entirely because she was focused only on the match. However, she offered words of support for both men.

“I think every athlete, every human and definitely every African-American should be completely grateful and honored how Colin and Eric are doing so much for the greater good, so to say,” Williams said. “They really use their platform in ways that is really unfathomable. I feel like they obviously have great respect from a lot of their peers, especially other athletes, people that are really looking for social change.”

Williams can count herself among those seeking change. In 2016, she penned a Facebook post about police violence after the killing of Philando Castile, telling readers, “I won’t be silent.” In the post, she relayed her own concerns about her then-18-year-old nephew being pulled over and killed by a police officer while he was driving her to various meetings. Williams quoted Martin Luther King, saying, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”

Soraya Nadia McDonald is the senior culture critic for Andscape. She writes about pop culture, fashion, the arts and literature. She is the 2020 winner of the George Jean Nathan prize for dramatic criticism, a 2020 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism and the runner-up for the 2019 Vernon Jarrett Medal for outstanding reporting on Black life.