Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who sparked a national debate when he protested against racial injustice by kneeling during the US national anthem, has resolved a pending grievance with the league, the two sides said on Friday.
- San Francisco players Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid both struggled to find a contract after their protest
- Kaepernick has not played in the NFL since 2016
- It is not clear how much money the players received after both signed a confidentiality agreement
The 31-year-old filed the collusion grievance against NFL owners in October 2017 after going unsigned as a free agent ahead of that season, following his decision to opt out of a contract with the San Francisco 49ers.
The quarterback sparked a wave of protests by NFL players in 2016 after he kneeled during the national anthem in a pre-season game to call attention to police brutality and racial inequality.
The protests grew into one of the most polarising issues in sports, with US President Donald Trump urging the league to suspend or fire players who demonstrated during The Star-Spangled Banner.
While he has been away from the playing field, Kaepernick has become an advocate for battling social and racial injustice, with many experts attributing his political activism as the key reason teams were wary of signing him.
The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, which governs such disputes, makes clear that failure to sign a player is not in itself enough to prove collusion.
Instead, a player would need evidence to show that teams worked together, rather than decided individually, to keep him out of the league.
The settlement also included Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid, who was the first player to join his former 49ers teammate in kneeling.
The NFL Players Association (NFLPA) said it supported the decision by the players and their counsel.
“We continuously supported Colin and Eric from the start of their protests, participated with their lawyers throughout their legal proceedings and were prepared to participate in the upcoming trial in pursuit of both truth and justice for what we believe the NFL and its clubs did to them,” the NFLPA said in a statement.
“We are glad that Eric has earned a job and a new contract, and we continue to hope that Colin gets his opportunity as well.”
Reid recently re-signed with the Panthers for three years and more than $US22 million ($30.8 million). He noted then that he got “fair market value” after making just $US1.69 million ($2.36 million) last season from the Panthers.
“If anything, it proves my point from last year,” Reid said.
“I didn’t sign until the [fourth] week and did for almost the league minimum. And this year I signed a more substantial contract. And nothing has changed. I’m still the same player.”
NFL faced continued criticism
While player protests during the anthem subsided in the last season, the issue came up last month when commissioner Roger Goodell said Kaepernick was not the victim of a coordinated effort by owners to bar him from playing, but rather just not a good fit for any of the 32 teams.
The league, which will celebrate its centenary season later this year, faced significant criticism from both sides of the argument, with many Kaepernick supporters wanting to see him back on the field and other fans saying they would not watch if the league allowed players to protest during the national anthem.
The league and Kaepernick’s lawyer sent out statements on Friday (local time) saying that “the parties have decided to resolve the pending grievances” and that a confidentiality agreement would prevent either side from commenting further.
It remained unclear if the NFL admitted wrongdoing or how much money Reid, Kaepernick or others may have received. Considering the lost salary both players claimed and legal costs, the settlement could have climbed into the tens of millions of dollars.
“For the past several months, counsel for Mr Kaepernick and Mr Reid have engaged in an ongoing dialogue with representatives of the NFL,” the league statement said.
“As a result of those discussions, the parties have decided to resolve the pending grievances. The resolution of this matter is subject to a confidentiality agreement so there will be no further comment by any party.”
Kaepernick’s lawyer Mark Geragos tweeted a similar statement.
Kaepernick led the 49ers to the Super Bowl game in 2013, but has not suited up since the 2016 season.
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