San Francisco 49ers

49ers’ Jed York doesn’t see Kaepernick as ‘blackballed’ but is sympathetic to protests

San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York during an NFL football press conference Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017, in Santa Clara, Calif.
San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York during an NFL football press conference Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017, in Santa Clara, Calif. AP

Jed York, who among NFL owners has been the most sympathetic to player protests, said Thursday he doesn’t think there is merit to the collusion grievance the original anthem protester, Colin Kaepernick, has brought against the league.

The former 49ers quarterback, who has received only scant interest since he became a free agent in March and who remains unemployed, filed the grievance against the league’s 32 owners earlier this week with his attorney saying in a statement that “peaceful political protest … should not be punished.”

Said York: “Obviously there’s the lawsuit that’s going on, so it’s hard for me to give any details or really share my opinion. But I don’t believe that there’s a base to that claim he’s being blackballed.”

Earlier in the week York and several owners met with players, including 49ers safety Eric Reid, about providing them with a platform to highlight the issues – racial inequity, particularly police brutality – that have prompted them to protest during the national anthem.

York echoed what Reid said earlier in the week: It’s important for owners and players to have conversations about the issues and those talks have only just begun.

“This is not a trade,” he said. “This is not, ‘We’re going to do this for you and, quid pro quo, you stand up.’ 

The protests have given York a profile – and a voice – the young owner hasn’t had previously on league matters. When owners emerged from their meeting in New York on Tuesday, York held court in front of a bank of television cameras as national reporters tweeted out his every comment on the issue.

While York has been painted as the most player-friendly owner on the issue, the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones has been cast as the most austere of the group. Jones, whose Cowboys visit York’s 49ers on Sunday, has said that any of his players who protest during the anthem would be benched.

York said he wasn’t “the most left-wing person in the world” growing up in Youngstown, Ohio, but living in California has changed him. York and the 49ers donated $1 million last year to causes that were in sync with those Kaepernick supported. He also spoke out last year against North Carolina’s controversial bathroom bill, which would have required those who identify as transgender to use the restroom that matches their biological sex.

“Everything starts from conversation,” he said. “The more you can see where other people are coming from, I think the more enlightened you can be. I’m not the most left-wing person in the world. And I realize people are trying to paint me that way. That’s not my background politically and how I grew up. But a lot of these things are common-sense issues. When you sit down with people and know where people are coming from, it’s hard not to be sympathetic and empathetic.”

Kaepernick’s unemployment, meanwhile, has become increasingly important to the protesting players.

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett this week said it was hard for there to be any meaningful dialogue between the league and players while Kaepernick is still waiting for an opportunity.

Reid, meanwhile, has praised York’s involvement since last year. But he disagrees with the team’s owner on Kaepernick’s collusion charge.

“It sure does seem like he’s being blackballed,” he said after the 49ers’ most recent game. “I think all the stats prove that he’s an NFL-worthy quarterback.”

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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