Colin Kaepernick has all the reason in the world to believe that the NFL’s 32 owners colluded to keep him out of uniform for the 2017-18 season and beyond. As a dynamic quarterback with postseason experience coming off a respectable season, Kaepernick objectively has been, at the minimum, a slightly above-average gunslinger.
Yet, Kaepernick has remained unsigned. While the sub-mediocre likes of Brandon Weeden, Josh McCown and Jay Cutler have taken plenty of snaps under center, a quarterback who led his team to a Super Bowl appearance remains jobless. There’s no plausible reason as to why Kaepernick has remained jobless. He knows it, and millions other know it.
Now, he’ll be tasked with proving it.
At this point, it’s impossible to deny Kaepernick’s inability to find a job even as a reserve has not been due to a lack of skill, but rather his refusal to stand during the national anthem in protest of police brutality against African Americans and the institution’s lack of accountability. Kaepernick’s actions opened up Pandora’s box, beginning a dialogue regarding the intersection between politics and sports that has extended far beyond the quarterback.
Kaepernick has officially filed a grievance alleging that the NFL’s teams colluded under the latest collective bargaining agreement to keep him out of the league. Article 17 (Anti-Collusion), Section 1 of the latest CBA states, “No Club, its employees or agents shall enter into any agreement, express or implied, with the NFL or any other Club, its employees or agents to restrict or limit individual Club decision-making.”
With the help of attorney Mark J. Geragos and the NFLPA’s support, Kaepernick and his team will be tasked with meeting the burden of proof and providing cold hard evidence rather than claims that, while they may be factual, cannot be definitively proven. Referring back to the text of the CBA, “The complaining party shall bear the burden of demonstrating by a clear preponderance of the evidence that (1) the challenged conduct was or is in violation of Section 1 of this Article and (2) caused an economic injury to such player(s).”
For Kaepernick, this case won’t be easy to win, and in complete honesty, I don’t believe this is a case he can win. While he can point to his superior metrics compared to those of the aforementioned Weeden, McCown and Cutler, that notion alone is not enough to prove collusion. Individual teams do, after all, have the freedom to make their own assessments regarding a free agent.
In a vacuum, any team has the ability sign Player A over Player B for a variety of reasons other than pure numbers. Of these intangibles is the ability to fit a certain scheme and prior relationships with members of the team, just to name a few. Considering Michael Crabtree, a former teammate of Kaepernick’s, didn’t end his time with the San Francisco 49ers on the best terms with Kaepernick, the Oakland Raiders weren’t exactly a plausible destination.
A team can also look at Kaepernick and arrive at the conclusion that the costs outweigh the benefits, which is not collusion either. While Kaepernick did total 18 combined rushing and passing touchdowns last season with a subpar supporting cast, he’s turning 30, and his play style leaves him susceptible to a potential big hit. I don’t necessarily agree with this argument, but it’s a completely plausible because Kaepernick isn’t exactly a “can’t miss” generational talent.
Furthermore, Kaepernick and his team will have the task of finding definitive proof that two or more teams, or the league office and at least one team, worked together to ensure he did not suit up. The key point is that this requires multiple parties. A team could outright say, “We did not sign Kaepernick because he would be a distraction,” and this would not fall under the rules of collusion because only one party would be involved. Unless some official royally screwed up, that definitive proof won’t be easy to find.
Opting to file for collusion is the unofficial nail in the coffin of Kaepernick’s playing career, as any possible production he would bring to the table cannot outweigh by the media circus that follows — an unfortunate end to one of the league’s most interesting career arcs in recent memory.
I can’t help but look at this situation through the lens of hopelessness. Sports and politics have historically been joined together at the hip, but instead of providing athletes with an outlet, those who dare to speak out are either told, “that’s not the right way,” or they’re completely ostracized.
Kaepernick won’t be the last athlete to make such a polarizing decision. There will be another like him who dare to take a stand, who will put their career on the line to protest issues much greater than sports. Let’s hope that athlete meets a different fate.