In the quest for freedom, poet Jorie Graham once said, “Nobody gets what they want. Never again are you the same. The longing is to be pure. What you get is to be changed.”

This sentiment couldn’t be truer than in the context of folks such as Muhammad Ali, John Carlos and Tommie Smith and now Eric Reid.

In their fight for racial equality, these Black athlete activists have sacrificed everything—they’ve risked their careers and livelihoods to speak the truth and shed light on the injustices of the day.

In 2016, Reid was the first NFL player to join former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in protest against police brutality and racial inequality in the United States. Then, after playing out his contract with San Francisco, Reid remained unsigned up until three weeks ago.

On skill alone, Reid should have been signed much earlier.  He was drafted in the first round in the 2013 NFL Draft and was named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie. At 26 he is in his absolute prime. His former head coach Kyle Shanahan even said Reid had been “playing his best football” at the end of last season.

In March, believing that he was being blackballed by the league for kneeling, Reid admitted that if signed by a team, he would not protest during the anthem.

“The notion that I can be a great signing for your team for cheap, not because of my skill set but because I’ve protested systemic oppression, is ludicrous. If you think [it] is, then your mindset is part of the problem too,” he wrote on Twitter.

Reid played his first game of 2018 on Sunday with the Carolina Panthers and despite his earlier statement, he kneeled, continuing the fight for racial equality and justice for all of those who’ve been murdered at the hands of police.

I can’t imagine this decision came easy. This offseason, NFL owners passed a rule that required any players on the field to stand during the playing of the national anthem. Although that policy has been put on hold, there are still critics out there who believe that Reid is a “piece of shit” for choosing to stand up against systematic oppression; there are still NFL owners out there who would rather lose an entire season than hire him.

Last May, Reid filed a claim insisting he was unsigned due to collusion by NFL owners. The NFL Players Association filed a non-injury grievance on Reid’s behalf in May.

“Our union is aware that Eric Reid and his legal representatives filed a collusion claim, which will be heard through the arbitration process as spelled out in our collective bargaining agreement,” the NFL Players Association said in a statement Wednesday. “Our union supports Eric and we are considering other legal options to pursue.”

While this is an effective way to enact change and stand up for himself, Reid’s complaint against the league could potentially hurt his chances of being re-signed once his contract ends. After all, the Panthers gave him only a one-year deal worth up to $2 million with play-time and Pro Bowl incentives.

Nevertheless, Reid has made it clear that he and Kaepernick will never stop protesting for the rights of Black people.

“When we started, Colin and I, we said: ‘Nothing will change unless you talk about it,’ so we’re going to continue to talk about it,” Reid said. “We’re going to continue to hold America accountable to the standard it says on paper, that we’re all created equal, because it’s not that way—but we’re going to keep pushing forward.”

Despite the controversy behind his protesting and the grief he’ll have to continue to endure from spiteful, offended fans, it seems Eric Reid, like Tommie Smith and John Carlos, is in this fight for the long haul.

Never again will he be looked at as just an NFL player. When we flip through the history books, we’ll see him and Kaepernick and everyone who’s protested in the name of racial injustice as agents of change who, through their activism and fight for freedom, were changed themselves.