It seemed almost inevitable that Colin Kaepernick would file a grievance against the NFL after every league owner passed on signing the once-impressive quarterback following his departure from the San Francisco 49’ers.
But, with word that President Trump will be named prominently in the action taken under the league’s collective bargaining agreement, this will now likely metastasize into just what the reeling NFL does not need – another politically supercharged episode:
“The influence and power of President Donald Trump will be a central element in Colin Kaepernick’s collusion grievance against the NFL, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, identifying the culture fostered by the leader of the free world as a factor in teams failing to extend a contract offer for work-out invitation to the former Super Bowl quarterback since he became a free agent in March.”
It is reasonable to assume that the strong and repeated statements by President Trump may have influenced owners needing to add a quarterback to their roster since the season began six weeks ago. But Trump can hardly be blamed for the league-wide refusal to sign Kaepernick during the off-season, which was well before Trump engaged in his beatdown on the NFL for allowing players to kneel or remain in their locker rooms during the National Anthem. Given that the vast majority of players are signed or acquired during the off-season (between February and August), the president’s influence in Kaepernick’s non-signing would appear to be, at best, a secondary factor. But it may well be that this doesn’t matter if Kaepernick’s grievance is designed largely to embarrass the President.
Was Collusion Necessary?
But whether Trump is at all responsible for Kaepernick remaining unsigned, the fact is that it was unnecessary for NFL owners to collude. Once he decided to take a knee repeatedly during the Star-Spangled Banner in 2016, Kaepernick became a lightning rod, and owners were understandably reluctant to take on a player who would alienate a significant portion of their fan base. It’s called good business.
While Kaepernick led the 49’ers to a Super Bowl appearance in 2013, his career had since spiraled downward. He had a sub-par year for a bad team in 2016 and was no longer the hot property he had once been. And Kaepernick himself opted out of his contract with the 49’ers, knowing he would face an uncertain free agent market.
Collusion in Major League Baseball
It would be helpful to compare the actions of NFL owners regarding Kaepernick to an actual case of a professional sports league found guilty of collusion. From 1985-87, major league baseball owners conspired to freeze out free agents in a fashion that was so clumsy that collusion was obvious to anyone paying attention. Dozens of free agents were denied market-value offers, and MLB was forced to cough up $280 million in a settlement.
In this case, only one player was not signed, and collusion, while still possible, was hardly required for one NFL owner after another to pass on signing an explosively controversial quarterback certain to inflame the fans, and whose best days are likely behind him.
One way or another, collusion is famously difficult to prove, so the suspicion that this grievance is more about politics than an attempt to restore the career of Colin Kaepernick appears well founded.