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Is the NFL Colluding Against Colin Kaepernick?

CHARLOTTE, NC – SEPTEMBER 18: Eric Reid #35 and Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers kneel on the sideline, during the anthem, prior to the game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on September 18, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Panthers defeated the 49ers 46-27. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)


Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who last season started a wave of sideline protests by kneeling during the playing of the national anthem, has filed a grievance against the N.F.L., accusing all 32 teams of colluding to keep him out of the league.

The move threatens to escalate a billowing dispute that has galvanized many players who believe the owners are penalizing Kaepernick, who began kneeling to raise awareness of social injustice, including police brutality against black Americans.

The anthem demonstrations have drawn repeated condemnation from President Trump, led team owners to consider measures to restrict them, and fueled a national conversation on the propriety of protesting during the song. The protests have spread beyond the N.F.L., to draw in high school players, college cheerleaders and, this weekend, a German soccer team.

Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers in March and has not found a team willing to sign him. His grievance will be heard by an arbitrator under the terms of the labor agreement between the union and the league. Kaepernick’s lawyer, Mark Geragos, said in a statement that Kaepernick had exhausted “every possible avenue with all N.F.L. teams and their executives.”

To recapitulate:

  • We can be about as certain as we can be about any such counterfactual that Kaepernick has been at least informally blackballed. There is no precedent for a healthy player of anything like Kaepernick’s age and record no having an NFL job. QBs with distinctively lower ceilings and floors started for teams that expected to be competitive in Week 1.
  • The decision by the Titans not to look at him, which apparently helped to motivate the suit, was indeed particularly egregious. They signed a player worse than Kaepernick by any possible metric (other than conclusory I WATCHED THE TAPE bullshit), and the other alternatives they considered were even worse. Because of their incumbent, Tennessee can’t even credibly claim that Weeden is a better system fit. Moreover, Tennessee’s decision is consequential — their decision to not to sign Kaepernick could well cost them a playoff spot.

All that said, the NFL may not be involved in legal collusion here, and even if they are it might not be possible to prove. The MLB collusion of the 80s 1)had a paper trail, and 2)given the benefits that would have accrued to a defector — like, say, getting a 27-year-old Tim Raines at well under market value — active collusion would almost certainly have been necessary. The blackballing of Kaepernick, however, wouldn’t necessarily require active coordination. The effects going with a supoptimal backup or low-end starter are much less, and teams might be doing that on their own. To be clear, I’m not saying there isn’t collusion, just that the fact that he’s being treated unfairly doesn’t prove collusion per se. We’ll just have to see if he can produce evidence.


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