He’s calling it the No Fair League.
Lightning rod quarterback Colin Kaepernick has filed a grievance against NFL owners, who he says have conspired to keep him out of football over his controversial national anthem protest.
Despite six weeks of the season in the books, and a string of vacancies across the league, Kaepernick — whose kneeling national anthem protest drew the attention of even President Trump — has remained unsigned by any of the league’s 32 teams since he cut ties with the San Francisco 49ers last year.
Kaepernick, 29, insists he has been sidelined by corporate collusion, and has filed an official complaint under the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and its players.
The grievance, which also names NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, appeared to have been filed before yet another roster spot opened up Sunday with the likely season-ending injury to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who suffered a broken collarbone.
It was unclear whether there were any talks between Kaepernick and the Packers.
“Mr. Kaepernick became a free agent on or around March 3, 2017,” the complaint says. “Based on his consistently exceptional career performance, his age, and all other objective metrics, Mr. Kaepernick was an ideal candidate — and, in fact, the best-qualified candidate — to fill the vacant starting quarterback positions on many NFL teams, or at the very least, the numerous vacant backup positions. Goodell himself has been quoted as stating that the NFL is about ‘meritocracy and opportunity.’
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones (right) talks with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (left) before an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012.
(James D. Smith /AP)
“However, during his free agency period, the purportedly ‘free market’ — whose natural function should have resulted in a bidding war (or at least high-level interest) for a quarterback of Mr. Kaepernick’s caliber — instead functioned as a peculiar institution with suspicious design and objective.”
Kaepernick, who took the 49ers to the Super Bowl after the 2012 season, named all the league’s teams in the complaint.
Kaepernick has hired criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos to represent him. Geragos has represented other celebrities, including Michael Jackson, former Rep. Gary Condit, actress Winona Ryder, reality star Nicole Richie and singer Chris Brown.
Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem last year to protest police brutality and racial injustice, a gesture that spread to other players on other teams.
But Kaepernick’s defiance drew the wrath of many fans, including Trump, who said the protest disrespects the flag and armed service members.
Trump even encouraged owners to fire players who participate in the protests. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said his team would bench players who don’t stand for the national anthem.
Players kneel during the national anthem
Various players across the league continued to kneel Sunday, including some of Kaepernick’s former teammates.
“It sure does seem like he’s being blackballed,” said 49ers safety Eric Reid, who knelt before Sunday’s 26-24 loss to the Washington team. “I think all the stats prove that he’s an NFL-worthy quarterback. So that’s his choice and I support his decision.”
The NFL Players Association said in a statement that it is supporting Kaepernick’s grievance.
In trying to show teams staged a coordinated boycott against him, Kaepernick faces a challenge tougher than the Denver Broncos defense. Kaepernick would have to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that more than one team owner or executive actually had a discussion and plotted to keep him out of football.
Collusion also doesn’t require all 32 teams to be working together. As few as two individuals can collude against a player to trigger a legitimate antitrust infraction, according to legal experts.
If Kaepernick can prove so much as an email exchange or a text message or a phone call took place between just two people agreeing not to sign him, the CBA stipulates he could claim economic damages — likely the average contract QBs were getting from teams this offseason. He could also gain additional compensation equal to double whatever those lost wages calculate to.
Member of the San Francisco 49ers kneel and stand during the playing of the National Anthem before an NFL football game against the Washington NFL team in Landover, Md., Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017.
In the 1980s, free-agent baseball players proved that the owners were conspiring against them to keep salaries down. An arbitrator awarded the players $ 280 million in damages.
Two years ago, Barry Bonds claimed Major League Baseball owners were also colluding against him when he was a radioactive free agent dogged by steroid allegations in 2007.
He could not produce hard evidence that teams were working against him and an arbitrator ruled against Bonds. Winning, experts said, requires more than just every team taking a pass on you.
“The challenge with making a successful collusion claim, both under antitrust law and under a sports collective bargaining agreement, is factually proving the wrongdoing,” said Marc Edelman, a sports law expert and law professor at Baruch College.
Giants owner John Mara has said he would be skittish about signing Kaepernick.
“All my years being in the league, I never received more emotional mail from people than I did about that issue,” Mara told Sports Illustrated. “If any of your players ever (kneel for the anthem), we are never coming to another Giants game. It wasn’t one or two letters. It was a lot … It’s an emotional, emotional issue for a lot of people, more so than any other issue I’ve run into.”