From [HERE] and [HERE] In a major blow to the N.F.L., Colin Kaepernick achieved a preliminary but important win in his case accusing the league of colluding to keep him off the field because of the player protests during the national anthem that he instigated.
The ruling, essentially granting a full hearing on the dispute, keeps alive a case that the N.F.L. desperately wanted to go away. The league is preparing for a new season beginning next week and is still grappling with how to defuse the smoldering debate over players who demonstrate during the national anthem to protest racism, police brutality and social injustice.
Kaepernick, once one of the league’s best quarterbacks, has been out of work since March 2017, when he became a free agent before the San Francisco 49ers could release him. As a parade of lesser quarterbacks, at least statistically, found work, he filed a grievance asserting that the league’s owners had conspired to keep him out because of his protests.
In a ruling this week that was disclosed Thursday, the arbitrator, Stephen B. Burbank, who was appointed by the league and the N.F.L. Players Association, said lawyers for Kaepernick had unearthed enough information in the past year for the case to proceed to a full hearing. After months of depositions — including those given by some of the most powerful owners in the league — as well as document searches, the lawyers will be able to question league officials, owners and others in a trial-like format.
The decision was revealed by Mark Geragos, Kaepernick’s lawyer.
Proving that a team or a league colluded to keep a player off the field has been difficult over the years.
“Smoking gun” documents that show owners acted in a coordinated way are rare. Aggrieved players have a hard time proving teams deliberately passed them over in favor of less talented alternatives because teams hire and fire players for subjective reasons all the time, and are well within their rights to do so.
A case that was originally about Kaepernick’s skills has turned into something much larger: a referendum on his politics, free speech and even his legacy. N.F.L. teams have signed players who have beaten their spouses and run operations that killed dogs for sport, but protesting during the national anthem may prove to be the unforgivable sin, it seems.
This sets the stage for owners and league executives to be questioned in a trial-like setting. Kaepernick faces an uphill legal battle, but even proceeding to a full hearing amounts to a victory because it allows his lawyers to continue to search for evidence of collusion, while keeping Kaepernick’s name in the news during the N.F.L. season, when attention on football is at its peak.
There is a sensible and common solution to get out of this jam: a settlement.
The league has been desperately trying to extinguish the continuing protests — which are an attempt to raise awareness about police brutality and economic inequality — and the fiery debate they have sparked. But the case is expected to drag on for months, so the league could reach a deal to pay Kaepernick damages equal to twice what he might have made if he were still playing.
In a normal case, Kaepernick, who hasn’t played since 2016, might decide he has won enough already, agree to a settlement, walk away with millions of dollars and move on with his life. Or some team in a progressive city could just put Kaepernick on a roster for the season, which could take a lot of steam out of his complaints.
This, however, is not a normal case. Both sides appear to be fighting about something larger than dollars.
“Everyone should be motivated to settle,” said Michael LeRoy, who teaches sports labor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “That said, neither Kaepernick nor some of the owners are the type to settle. They are putting principle above money.”
Kaepernick appears interested in continuing to raise awareness about police brutality and other forms of social injustice, not about winning monetary restitution. While he has not spoken to the media since he filed his grievance in October, he has sent messages about his agenda through social media and a handful of planned public appearances.
He has used Twitter to cheer players who continue to protest during the national anthem. Pictures have also surfaced of Kaepernick teaching young people about their rights when approached by police officers. After he received an award from Amnesty International, Kaepernick spoke about his goals of addressing police brutality.
Kaepernick has not shied away from taunting the N.F.L. He showed up to the deposition of an N.F.L. owner wearing a black T-shirt with the name Kunta Kinte on it, a reference to the slave at the center of the book and television drama, “Roots.” [MORE]