Former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick will win and lose with the collusion grievance he’s filed against the NFL. The win is easy. The NFL season is nearly half over. Several starting NFL quarterbacks have gone down, or have been banged around to the point where their playing status is touch and go, game by game. The most recent to go is Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers.
Yet, not one of the 32 NFL teams has expressed any real interest in giving Kaepernick a tryout. A handful of owners, GMs and coaches have gone further and said either he wouldn’t fit in their offensive scheme or flatly told the truth, and said, he’d be a “distraction.” He was simply not worth the hassle. So, Kap really didn’t have anything to lose in filing his grievance. He’s out. He’s effectively blackballed.
The odds that he can actually prove that two or more owners got together exchanged texts, emails or left some paper trail in which they agreed that they’d do everything they could to make sure he never suited up again on their team or any other NFL team because of his views and protest is slim to none. However, he doesn’t really need to uncover that smoking gun document to make his case that 32 NFL owners have slammed the NFL door to him. He’s a player at the peak of his career, had relatively good stats, won many games as a starter and could help several struggling teams as a back-up.
The exclusion of a player with those credentials is unprecedented in the NFL. Still, it does not meet the sky-high bar to prove collusion but it reinforces what many in the sports world, many NFL players, and many in surveys and polls have said about him. The grievance is a public relations coup that no amount of money could buy. The complaint forced the NFL to scramble and issue pious statement after pious statement that it respects individual freedoms, including the right of players to protest. It challenges the owners to do more than pay lip service to backing social justice causes and the fight against racial injustice.
It forced NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to swiftly squash media speculation that the NFL owners at their scheduled meeting would clamp down on the player’s anthem protests by making it mandatory that they stand at rapt attention during the playing of the anthem. This all can be chalked up largely to Kap’s grievance. The other win is that it stiffens the sternum of the NFL players association in their coming contract talks with NFL owners about pay, revenue sharing, health benefits, with special emphasis on the concussion issue. The grievance will also bolster the association’s demand for loosening owner controls on what players can and can’t say and do as NFL players. This is huge given that the NFL is not, and never has been, a democracy. It’s an owner’s autocracy in which the players in times past have been expendable and readily replaceable cogs in a revolving door with little to no say so about the NFL rules and playing conditions. The grievance put a major chink in the NFL’s seeming untouchability on player rights.
He will continue to be vilified, scorned and ridiculed, as being the one who ruined football and sports by ramming those inconvenient issues and politics into the sports arena.
This is all great for the players, and their association. It’s great for Kap in that he can claim much of the credit for shaking up the league, much of the sports establishment, and even causing a significant number of NFL and sports fans to think hard about police abuse and racial injustice in society. Ironically, this is where he loses. He will continue to be vilified, scorned, and ridiculed by many more in the sports establishment and other NFL fans and sports enthusiasts as being the one who ruined football and sports by ramming those inconvenient issues and politics into the sports arena. With the likelihood good, that he will not win his complaint, he will not get the millions in pay and damages that have bandied about as the pay-off if he did prevail. Even worse, he has effectively killed any slender, remote chance that he ever had of playing again in the NFL. He will be the Curt Flood of pro football; a man who took a stand, won a victory for the players, but who paid a heavy personal price for that victory.
Some say that Kap knew the risk he was taking when he took his stand, and that he was prepared to pay the price for it. That may or may not be the case, but what is undeniable is that Kap still wants to play football, NFL football and has dropped many hints about that. So, it’s facile to say the least, that he had any desire to be the Rosa Parks of sports. He’s a pro football player, first and foremost, and that’s what he’d still love to be on the field in an NFL game. Sadly, that’s his loss. But it’s football, the sports world and America’s gain.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. His latest book is, The Trump Challenge to Black America (Middle Passage Press) will be released in August. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.