San Francisco 49ers

Did Colin Kaepernick beat the NFL? Some feel that’s the case, others aren’t so sure

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, right, safety Eric Reid kneel during the national anthem before a season-opening win over the Los Angeles Rams on Sept. 12, 2016.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, right, safety Eric Reid kneel during the national anthem before a season-opening win over the Los Angeles Rams on Sept. 12, 2016. The Associated Press

One of the most polarizing topics in sports and culture over the past three years reached a notable tipping point Friday, when it was announced the NFL was settling with Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid over their collusion case alleging they were conspired against following their protest of racial discrimination and police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem.

Mark Geragos, the attorney for the former 49ers players, issued a joint statement with the league announcing the terms of the settlement would remain confidential, which has been widely viewed as a win for Kaepernick and Reid because many believe the NFL issued a large cash payout to the players in order to avoid the possibility of embarrassing evidence becoming public. A confidentiality agreement was signed.

Geragos had reportedly deposed a number of prominent league officials, including NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and powerful owners such as Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots and the late Bob McNair of the Houston Texans, who came under fire in 2017 for comparing protesting players to “inmates running the prison” (and later walked back his apology).

Had the case gone to its scheduled hearings in the coming weeks, there’s a chance e-mails, text messages and deposition transcripts compiled in discovery over the past year could have surfaced. There’s little doubt the NFL would have been incentivized to settle with the players if any of that evidence would lead to another public relations nightmare while the league continues to deal with players implicated in domestic violence and head injuries altering the future of football.

Kaepernick, who hasn’t played since the finale of the 2016 regular season, began sitting on the bench during the national anthem during exhibition games that August. He then decided kneeling would be a better gesture after consulting with Nate Boyer, a former Army Green Beret and Seattle Seahawks long snapper. Kaepernick was joined by Reid, who has been kneeling during the anthem for most of the past two seasons while Kaepernick remained unemployed following his departure from the 49ers in early 2017.

Reid last week signed a three-year contract with the Carolina Panthers worth some $22 million after joining the team in September after the season began. He went unsigned during an unusually quiet free agent offseason for safeties.

Kaepernick continues to have detractors, even after the case settled Friday, indicating the NFL wanted it to go away. But some notable figures have voiced their support.

“I stand with Kap. I kneel with Kap,” Los Angeles Lakers LeBron James told reporters in Charlotte during All-Star Weekend festivities. “I mean, I just feel what he was talking about, nobody wanted to listen to. Nobody ever really wanted to actually understand where he was coming from.

“I think that anybody that would sacrifice their livelihood for the better of all of us, I could respect that. And he’s done that. You got a guy who basically lost his job because he wanted to stand for something that was more than just him. And so I’m happy to see the news come out (Friday) that he won his (lawsuit). I hope it’s a hell of a lot of money that could set not only him up, but set his family up, set his grandkids up for the rest of their lives. And I hope that the word of what he did will live on throughout American history but also world history, because it’s important for all of us — not only African Americans, but for everybody that wants to stand up for something that’s more important than them.”

But not everyone considers the settlement a slam dunk victory for Kaepernick.

Founding director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute and Sports Illustrated legal analyst Michael McCann wrote: “Either side can spin this settlement as a win. No doubt, it will be spun by Kaepernick’s supporters and his critics alike. In reality, the settlement is more like a draw that underscores the relative strengths and weaknesses for each side. Also, the absence of public knowledge of the terms of the settlement makes classifying it as a ‘win’ or ‘loss’ highly speculative.”

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said if teams thought Colin Kaepernick could help them win, they would have signed him by now.

McCann went on to write the NFL could have had other reasons to settle the case, such as collusion impacting future labor relations with the NFL Players Association and the minute possibility the case could have led to the termination of the entire collective bargaining agreement altogether.

“Under Article 17, (1) if Kaepernick had shown “clear and convincing evidence” that 14 or more teams had colluded against him; (2) if (arbitrator Stephen) Burbank had found that these teams engaged in “willful collusion with the intent to restrain competition among teams”; and (3) if the NFLPA was the party the brought the proceeding that led to a finding of 14 or more teams colluding against Kaepernick—note the many “ifs” in that sequence—the NFLPA could have elected to terminate the CBA, which is set to expire in 2020. Obviously, it’s unknown if Kaepernick could have proven such a wide-ranging conspiracy, though it is perhaps notable that Burbank did not dismiss any teams from the grievance.”

The next question facing Kaepernick is whether or not he’ll ever play in the NFL again. Some believe teams were hesitant to sign him because of his the pending greviance against the league. But now that it’s settled, with that lead to clubs being willing to add a quarterback who led the 49ers to a 4-2 record in playoff games?

Geragos, his attorney, believes so.

“I’m going to make a bold prediction that one of three teams picks him up,” Geragos said on CNN. “If Cam Newton is out, then the natural place to be would to play with Eric (Reid). ... Besides the Panthers, it would not surprise me if (Patriots owner) Bob Kraft makes a move.”
Related stories from Sacramento Bee