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Eric Reid took a knee in his NFL return, and breathed new life into a movement

Here’s why Reid’s protest was more important than ever.

On Sunday afternoon, safety Eric Reid kneeled during the Star Spangled Banner. The Carolina Panthers went on to defeat the New York Giants, but nothing following that moment during the national anthem felt more important. His locs slightly waved, and his face remained stoic in rebuke. Reid made his true return to the football field, his essence a reminder that unwavering protest wasn’t finished interrupting America’s game.

The current era, brimming with multiple black athletes upending the athletic status quo, was on the brink of fizzling. The activism that ousted Colin Kaepernick from the game, that uplifted the cries of the powerless across America, was teetering into nothingness. Before Week 5, Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson were still kneeling in Miami, but they were the only ones. It felt like the league had nearly forgotten that so many men had crouched, demanding attention to the countless ways the country keeps people unequal.

That insistence on inequality is why it took Reid so long to get to this moment, having filed a collusion grievance with the NFL and eventually returning to the field underpaid. But his fight was necessary. His defiance is inexorable. Seeing him take a knee wasn’t just refreshing, knowing the losses he’s accrued demanding justice — it also felt timely.

The current decade of protest has generated a constant flow of public discourse on how racism impacts every facet of American life. Protest like Reid’s does not divide us, but rather, it empowers the forgotten. It uplifts and highlights the black frustration of being unequal. Just last week, people in Chicago cried out as police officer Jason Van Dyke was convicted of murdering 16-year-old LaQuan McDonald. The cries came not only because another black boy was gunned down, but because of the rarity and the lengths it took to even believe a verdict such as this was possible.

It is why Reid’s unending revolt is part of the growing disturbance America needs. Without it, the same steps are repeated, the same abusers rewarded with power.

Reid, speaking after the game, said as much:

“I feel like our country is moving backward, and the only way to change that is to keep talking about it, to keep raising awareness. Keep doing what we’re doing … We as a country have fallen short,” Reid said before listing the names of those who have been murdered extra-judiciously by police. “It’s unacceptable. And I can’t close my eyes and go to sleep at night without feeling like I did something to try to make things better.”

It is important to remember that it is not the exclusive onus of the black athlete to shoulder this alone. It will take allies to cleanse us of the problems we face. The status quo can be slow to accept these realities and sadly requires nudging to see error. That doesn’t diminish Reid’s role, however. The moment needs Reid for what he represents, so that we can do the work necessary to inch toward equality.

The assumption when it comes to black rage is that, eventually, there must be an end. Protest will dwindle and normalcy can takeover when fury ceases. Yet, Reid said the time has not come to stop protesting, and he breathed new life into the momentum of the movement. His plight has become a treasure to people who have never heard their wails honored.

It is a brilliant example of what patriotism can look like. Here, on bended knee, is a man willing to hold America to its true promise.