By: Will Burchfield
He wasn’t worried about it, Jalen Reeves-Maybin said, and it doesn’t bother him now that it’s begun.
But the backlash he’s experienced since kneeling during the national anthem each of the past two weekends is vicious.
“People DM (direct message) me all the time, comment on my pictures, little hate mail here and there,” said Reeves-Maybin, a rookie linebacker for the Lions.
Reeves-Maybin was one of eight Lions to kneel during the anthem in Week 3 in protest of Donald Trump’s critical comments about NFL players, and, more fundamentally, racial inequality in the U.S. He later posted a photo of the moment on Instagram, with the caption “FDT. RIP Trayvon Martin. #PleaseUnfollowMeIfYouAintWithTheMovement.”
(FDT is an acronym for ‘F**k Donald Trump.’)
The photo incited a vitriolic exchange in the comments section, and one person accused Reeves-Maybin of shaming his alma mater.
“Some VFL (Volunteer For Life) you are! You are a joke just like your senior season at UT! Can’t believe these owners are paying losers like you to play a game. Just glad we have men and women that stand up for our freedoms. You are a disgrace to Tennessee and this Nation. Good rookie move Idiot,” the commenter wrote.
But that’s benign compared to some of the other messages the 22-year-old Reeves-Maybin has received.
“People saying, ‘I hope you get CTE.’ Or, ‘I hope you can’t play with your kids when you’re done playing (in the NFL),'” he said.
The N-word, he said, is thrown at him all the time.
Reeves-Maybin lets it all roll of his back: “I can handle it,” he said.
“I don’t really care. Most of the time I just kind of laugh at it,” he added. “I’m pretty sure the people writing it have way more anger or put way more energy into something the claim they don’t even want to put energy into. I think when you get those kinds of things it makes you really realize how far away you are from what it really should be like.”
After their protest two weekends ago, the Lions held a team meeting in owner Martha Ford told the players she would donate money toward causes of their choosing if they stood for the anthem going forward.
“She could have just turned a blind eye to it or she couldn’t have made a decision. For her to come out and say she supports us,” Reeves-Maybin said, “that’s a big step in the right direction.”
Still, during the national anthem before Detroit’s game last weekend, Reeves-Maybin was one of two Lions who remained on a knee. (Steve Longa was the other.)
“I still looked at it as an individual decision that everyone has to make, and everyone has to be okay with what they do. That was just my decision,” Reeves-Maybin said.
He was never worried about blowback from his teammates, and there wasn’t any. Nor was he concerned about backlash from strangers, and there was plenty.
“It doesn’t bother me,” he said.
Reeves-Maybin said he hasn’t spoken personally with Ford about his decision to kneel, but feels he has the full support of the organization.
“Yeah, I do, but I think we’re still kind of looking something we all can do together. I know it’ll probably be the best thing if we’re all doing something together,” he said.