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Colin Kaepernick & NFL Settle Collusion Case


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The quarterback Colin Kaepernick ignited impassioned debates over race, activism and free expression after protesting police shootings of black men by kneeling during “The Star-Spangled Banner” at National Football League games in 2016.

The president tweeted his anger at him and dozens of other players who also knelt in protest during the national anthem. Some fans boycotted games over the players’ actions, and some boycotted the N.F.L. with the belief that Mr. Kaepernick, who failed to land a job the next season, was being blacklisted for his leadership in the movement.

Now, two and a half years later, Mr. Kaepernick and a former teammate, Eric Reid, have reached a surprise legal settlement with the N.F.L., which they had accused of colluding to keep them out of the league.

In a terse joint statement issued on Friday afternoon, the league and the players’ lawyers said that “the parties have decided to resolve the pending grievances” and that “there will be no further comment.”

A confidentiality agreement means that, for all the debate and discussion the case generated, it ended with a silence that left hanging whether the league admitted there was any collusion and whether Mr. Kaepernick would ever play another down.

Yet there most likely will be further discussion, as people debate whether Mr. Kaepernick was right and what enduring lesson the owners and league might draw from the saga.

“The most important thing is he started a really important conversation that we’ve been having for a couple of years, and the people who were willing to have that conversation have learned some things,” said Michael MacCambridge, the author of “America’s Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation.”

He added: “I suspect even if Kaepernick knew how long it would take he might have done it differently. But he took a social stand and he was willing to suffer the consequences of that.”

Mr. Kaepernick, 31, who played for the San Francisco 49ers and took them to the Super Bowl after the 2012 season, has not played in the N.F.L. since the 2016 season, when he began the kneeling campaign. (At first he sat during the anthem, but a former player who is a military veteran suggested he kneel instead to make his point while respecting the American flag.)

He filed a grievance under the league’s collective bargaining agreement in October 2017, months after failing to find a job, and his lawyers have been busy gathering evidence and testimony from numerous N.F.L. owners and league executives.

The case seemed headed to a ruling this spring by an arbitrator, until the abrupt statement on Friday that left the sports world guessing on whether the league paid the players and how much.

After protesting while playing for the 49ers, Mr. Reid, 27, also went unsigned for a period before playing most of last season for the Carolina Panthers. This week he signed a three-year contract with the team.

It is unclear whether Kaepernick will continue trying to play professional football again.

The settlement of their case was another unpredictable twist in a saga that began in August 2016 when Mr. Kaepernick, an African-American little known as an activist, began his protests during the anthem. He said the gesture was meant to draw attention to racism and police brutality against people of color.

Several players across the league joined him in kneeling during the anthem, generating a national discussion over it and leaving the league flummoxed over how to respond. Last year the N.F.L. instituted a policy that said players could remain in the locker room during the playing of the national anthem, but that if they were on the field they would have to stand.

But that policy was suspended after the N.F.L. Players Association filed a grievance, and it was never enforced.

The sideline protest movement seemed to lose momentum, and few players knelt during this past season. Mr. Kaepernick has said little, reserving most of his comments for his social media accounts. During the Super Bowl this month he posted on his Instagram account pictures of athletes and celebrities wearing jerseys supporting his cause.

On Friday, he only retweeted a statement from his lawyer, Mark Geragos.

Mr. Kaepernick emerged from the protests as both a polarizing figure and a cultural symbol. Last year, Nike signed him to a lucrative endorsement deal even though he remained out of the league and largely silent, not typically what a brand wants from an endorser.

A year before, Nike executives had decided to end their contract with Mr. Kaepernick, before being talked out of it. But with Mr. Kaepernick’s growing stature in the civil rights movement, the apparel company decided to make him a face of its “Just Do It” campaign, debuting a commercial narrated by Mr. Kaepernick during the opening game of the N.F.L. season.

Legal experts have said collusion cases are notoriously difficult to prove, which makes it highly unusual for the league to settle a case like this. It is possible Mr. Kaepernick’s lawyers had gathered enough persuasive evidence and testimony from owners, league officials and football experts that Mr. Kaepernick stood a reasonable chance of persuading the arbitrator hearing the case to rule in his favor.

Frank Hawkins, a former senior vice president of the N.F.L., said he thought the league was probably more worried about embarrassing statements from owners getting out through a hearing than about losing the case.

“People say stupid things, things get taken out of context,” he said. “So I think there was a reasonable potential for embarrassment and it is something that if they could settle it at a reasonable cost, they would probably just think it was worth paying nuisance value.”

Had Mr. Kaepernick won his case in a full hearing, he would have been eligible to receive the money he might have earned if he were signed as a free agent. In addition, he may have received double that amount in punitive damages. In his final year with the 49ers, Mr. Kaepernick earned more than $14 million.

Carl Tobias, an expert on civil litigation who teaches at the University of Richmond School of Law, said that parties settle for all sorts of reasons, even when they believe they may prevail in court. But the N.F.L., he said, most likely wanted to move on from the issue rather than risk an adverse ruling that could, among other things, taint negotiations over the league’s collective bargaining agreement, which will expire in two seasons.

“I think the N.F.L. just wanted to get this behind them and not have this threat hanging over them,” Mr. Tobias said. “I think they’d pay whatever they’d get away with to stop the hemorrhaging and the negative light on the league.”

According to the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the union, the burden is on the player to prove that owners actively conspired against him.

“That is often difficult to do because parties typically don’t leave a written record of their illegal maneuvering,” said William Gould, who was chairman of the National Labor Relations Board at the time of the Major League Baseball strike in 1994.

Mr. Kaepernick, however, received a favorable ruling in August when the arbitrator overseeing the case, Stephen B. Burbank, dismissed the league’s attempt to have the case thrown out, allowing lawyers for Mr. Kaepernick to question owners and league officials in a format similar to a trial.

It was anticipated that Mr. Burbank would rule on the case in the coming months, and as of last week lawyers for Mr. Kaepernick were still preparing for final hearings in front of Mr. Burbank, according to a person with knowledge of the preparations.

Even though Mr. Kaepernick has not played in more than two years, and his play had grown erratic in his last months on the field, his name had continued to surface every time an N.F.L. team signed a new quarterback. Many of these quarterbacks had less experience or statistically did not seem to measure up to him.

Mr. Kaepernick’s name also continued to be invoked at major N.F.L. events, including the Super Bowl this month, when musicians said they would not perform during halftime out of sympathy for his case.

The Associated Press reported this week that a new league, the Alliance of American Football, spoke with Mr. Kaepernick but that he wanted at least $20 million to consider playing in it.

Mr. Kaepernick’s collusion case at times also exposed a bit of a rift between himself and the players’ union. Mr. Kaepernick hired his own lawyers for the case instead of going through the union, and the union’s statement on the resolution said it was informed of the settlement by the N.F.L. and was unaware of the terms.

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Surprised nobody put this up sooner but I guess everyone is busy crafting their seven round Giants mock drafts. :D

Ok saw it was mentioned in the Nike thread. :P


I've seen reports of him getting $80 million as part of the settlement, the NFL has finally shown some collective wisdom in putting this stupidity behind them.

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