Ahead of the Washington Football Team's first game of the NFL season, Washington Football Team and the Philadelphia Eagles joined in a moment of unity on the field to bring attention to social justice issues. That was followed by both teams kneeling on their sidelines during a moment of silence.
Prior to Sunday head coach Ron Rivera didn't know if the team would kneel, stand or figure out another way to bring attention to the issues, but a meeting on Friday would determine it. Whatever the decision was, all Rivera wanted was for his players to be accepting of everyone's choice and views.
Former NFL wide receiver Torrey Smith, who played for Rivera in Carolina, believes that message was a strong one and matched with the head coach's values.
“He’s been consistent, so I’m not surprised at all by his message," Smith said on NBC Sports Washington's Washington Football Kickoff Live.
Rivera and others across the league have made it clear that they would support players kneeling, something that wasn't always accepted when Colin Kaepernick first did it in 2016.
Smith was on the team with Kaepernick, and he now sees a different perception from part of society largely due to a better understanding of the message behind the gesture.
“The climate in 2016 when he first kneeled isn’t the same as it is in 2020," Smith said. "It’s more widely excepted to take a knee, because a lot of people understand what’s at stake and it’s not about the military at all."
The longtime pass catcher believes no one would know that better than Rivera, who's family has a military background.
“Now you take that, and you talk about a head coach and a leader in head coach Ron Rivera," Smith said. "He’s a military brat, his father served 30-plus years in the military and he knows that his father fought for the right for everyone to practice their first amendment rights."
Smith has also seen Rivera's acceptance first-hand in the past during their time together on the Panthers. When Carolina signed safety Eric Reid in 2018, it was a major moment as Reid had been right alongside Kaepernick in San Francisco as the two led the movement to take a knee and bring attention to police brutality and social injustice.
Rivera's decision to sign Reid was not impacted by the safety's personal beliefs, as the head coach was willing to support him in whatever he did.
“He was like, ‘Hey, can he play and is he a great person?’ That was it, he didn’t care about protesting, he was like, ‘we’ll deal with that when it comes.’ He respected his right to do so," Smith said.
Now in Washington amid a growing movement for social justice, Rivera has made it clear that he will continue to do just that. He'll respect his player's rights to act as they feel fits, and all he asks is that everyone is accepted in the locker room.
For Smith, that's something he believes speaks to the real reasoning behind the movements. Whether someone kneels or not is not what should be discussed. Players are doing this to bring attention to issues, and that is what society needs to focus on.
“If guys choose to protest today, great. If they don’t that’s fine as well. The fight is going to continue," Smith said. “We all have to play our part and not focus on the actual gesture of protesting but focus on the action and change we want to see.”