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With deep military ties, Eric Reid's family supports his cause

PRAIRIEVILLE, La. – Walk through the home of Eric and Sharon Guillory-Reid, and you can’t help but notice the trophies, mementos and photos.

They’re everywhere.

Nearly every shelf in almost every room is a testament to what happens when you raise four successful children, including two who made it to the NFL.

But they don't hand out trophies for what Panthers safety Eric Reid Jr. has done since he joined Colin Kaepernick’s silent protest of systemic inequality in 2016. Their actions have created an unprecedented national debate. Some of it healthy. Much of it ugly.

To many, Reid is a villain. To many others, he’s a hero.

“There's a saying, ‘If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.’ Kneeling is his way of standing for a cause, for something he believes in,” Guillory-Reid said of her son.

“So I'm very proud that he's taking a stand and he's not putting his career first. He's looking at the bigger picture of, ‘What can I do with the climate that we're in to make a difference, to make change happen?’”

Yet a good chunk of the country would prefer Reid stick to sports – or at least use something other than the national anthem to raise awareness.

“What other way? I mean, he's doing a silent, non-violent protest,” Guillory-Reid countered. “Do you want it to be violent? Do you want it to be saying something while the anthem is being played? That would be disrespectful. He's silently kneeling. I totally support him in what he's doing, how he wants to do it.”

Clearly, a mother is going to support her son. That’s not the takeaway here. What's notable is Guillory-Reid’s background, one she described as she showed off the uniform that's now three decades old.

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Beginning in January 1986, Guillory-Reid served six years in the Louisiana Army National Guard. Through basic training at Fort McClellan in Alabama and a stop in Germany, she worked her way up to sergeant. She would have been in the Gulf War if she wasn’t pregnant with Eric in 1991.

Reid plans to kneel again on Sunday during the Panthers’ “Salute to Service” festivities. Still, his mother is among those who can make a distinction between the two.

“I just always tell him that he has my full support, that I love him, I'm supporting him. I'm behind him and I trust and I know that he's going to handle it in the way that he sees fit,” Guillory-Reid said. “All that he needs to know and to feel is that he has the support of his family.”

Including his mother, at least 10 people in Reid’s immediate family have served their country.

His grandfather spent part of the 1950s in Japan.

A great uncle was killed in the Korean War.

An uncle spent 30 years in the Army with tours in Iraq and Kuwait.

A cousin recently returned from Afghanistan.

“Not a single person in my family stated that (Reid's kneeling) was anti-military,” Guillory-Reid said. “Every single person in my family sent me texts, Facebook messages about how proud they were and how they supported him.

“All of them were like, ‘You can use my name. If anybody wants to talk to me, I'm active duty, I'm retired. Tell them to give me a call. We fully support him.’”

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When Kaepernick began his protest, he sat on a bench during the anthem. A few weeks later, he and Reid met with retired Green Beret and former NFL player Nate Boyer.

From that meeting came compromise.

“My brother, who's a retired lieutenant colonel, said the first thing that happens on the battlefield when a soldier goes down is his fellow soldiers kneel around him,” Guillory-Reid said. “It's a sign of respect.

“So however people have twisted it for their own personal agenda, or because they don't want to see or they want to have something to complain about, then that's on them. They're just not being open-minded. They're not listening.”

That's a point Reid has been telling anyone who would listen. Which, of course, is a big part of the problem. We so often now struggle – or just don’t want – to listen to each other.

This isn’t about the flag. Or the military.

“We’ve never been protesting the Armed Services,” Reid said. “I have an extensive list of family members who are in the Armed Services, and they encouraged me to speak up because when they get home, they face the same things that I’m talking about.

“These are folks who fight for our country. They fight for our freedoms. But when they come home, they aren’t treated the same in every aspect of life. So I’m fighting for my family as well because we’ve experienced these things for far too long.”

Like his mother.

“I can remember going out to California,” said Guillory-Reid, who's made regular trips to the Bay Area over the past 13 years as a registered nurse, “and people would tell me when I was looking for an apartment, ‘Maybe you need somebody else to call and make inquiries on the phone so you can get an interview for the apartment.’

“By that, they were talking about somebody that doesn't sound like me. And it still goes on to this day. Everywhere.”

This is about a flawed criminal justice system. It’s about police brutality and racial injustice. It's about the incident that affected Reid most, when Alton Sterling was shot dead about 20 miles from the Reids’ home in July 2016.

“Again, it’s never been about disrespecting our Armed Services or anybody that is involved with first response,” Reid reiterated. “It’s about raising awareness and fighting systematic oppression.”

Echoed his mother: “It's about bringing awareness to social injustices that are in this country, mostly minority injustices. We still have a long way to go. You just have to bring awareness and enlightenment to the situation. You have to bring the truth out.”

Carolina Panthers strong safety Eric Reid, center, takes a knee during the playing of the national anthem prior to an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Considering who raised him, it’s not surprising Reid is unafraid to use his voice.

His father, Eric Sr., became an ordained minister in 1999. His mother?

“(She’s) a different breed,” Eric Jr. said. “She played tackle football growing up, so she’s tough.”

It was only one season, but Guillory-Reid played tight end and defensive end for the Baton Rouge Wildcats of the now-defunct Women’s American Football League. That was while she was raising four children, who all played sports themselves.

“Our way of keeping our kids in check was, ‘If you're not bringing home the grades, you're not playing,’” Guillory-Reid said. “My kids' argument was, ‘Oh, mom, it's just a B, or maybe it's a C. My friends’ parents would be happy if they got a B or C.’ And I'm like, ‘That's them. That's not what you're capable of.’

“I really did expect all As.”

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Of all the trophies in the Reids' home, perhaps the most impressive is showcased on a table in the foyer. It’s the Franklin D. Watkins Memorial Trophy, awarded to Eric his senior year in high school as the nation’s “premiere African-American male scholar-athlete.”

“He was just a good kid. He was always respectful, he obeyed the rules, he colored inside the lines,” Guillory-Reid said of Eric, who earned a 4.75 GPA at Dutchtown High School.

“He's never been in trouble. He doesn't drink. He doesn't smoke. He doesn't party. That's just him, and that's his comfort level. He's not that type of person to be out there.”

But by kneeling during the anthem, Reid has put himself in the middle of one of the biggest controversies in the history of American sports.

In one way, he’s accomplished his goal of raising awareness. People are talking. But often, they’re focused on a message that’s been hijacked.

“I used to get frustrated because I wanted people to understand, but now having done it for the amount of time that I’ve done it, I understand that you just have to talk to people who have a different opinion than you,” Reid said.

“A lot of people who don’t support what we’ve done probably haven’t seen what we’ve seen or experienced what we’ve experienced. So it’s just trying to break through that wall. We just have to continue to talk about it. We’re going to keep pressing. We’re going to keep fighting.”

It's a resolve that would make any mother proud. Especially one who served in part to give Americans like her son the right to do what he's doing.

“This is not about the military. It's not about disrespect,” Guillory-Reid said. “Right now, we may not see the incremental steps, but 10, 20 years down the line, you will see it.

“You've got to make a person believe that they can make a change. Already with the new ownership and Eric being there, people in Charlotte are seeing – they're seeing and they're knowing that they can make a difference. One person can really make a difference.”

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