CHARLOTTE — A group of Carolina Panthers was quite literally on the front lines of a protest Tuesday in uptown Charlotte.
Shaq Thompson, Chris Manhertz, Andre Smith, Tre Boston and Ian Thomas were among those marching for change.
“For those demanding change, now is not the time to stay silent, no matter your station in life. No matter what you have to lose,” said Manhertz.
The activism we're seeing now is a stark contrast to 2016, when Colin Kaepernick began his protest against racial injustice and police brutality -- a protest that has since cost Kaepernick a job in the NFL.
Smith was a rookie when Eric Reid signed with the Panthers. He watched Reid continue to demonstrate while he remained wary of saying too much on social media.
“I was worried about tweeting out something that could possibly get me in trouble, or something that they just wouldn’t like through me supporting social justices,” he said.
There are no such concerns anymore. Panthers owner David Tepper called the players who marched and offered his support.
“David Tepper, the team owner, called me and was just telling me how much he supports us, and he wants us to stay safe, and how important it was for us to keep this movement going even after all the hype dies down,” Smith said. "I really appreciate that. For him, one, just calling me — the team owner calling me is pretty cool. But (I have an) appreciation for his understanding — again, just knowing that it is a tough time. And Coach Rhule, he did a great job as well. He gave us the freedom. He said post however you feel, protest peacefully, be safe. So as far as the staff goes, I couldn’t be any more thankful for how they’ve handled this.”
New Panthers defensive end Steven Weatherly’s time in Minnesota was bookended by two killings of black men -- Philando Castile in 2016 and George Floyd a week before he moved. But this time, he said the moment feels different.
“The stage is set for us to take that next step,” Weatherly said. “I am happy because now four years later, since 2016, I think it’s moving in the right direction. No one is allowing it to be swept under the rug.”
“Going out there for me, it was just like food for my soul,” Smith said. “I felt like I could tweet all these things, I can repost all these things. But actually going out there and doing something physically was just a totally different experience, and I would recommend everyone do it.”