One month into the NFL season, the league has some reasons for optimism. Scoring is up at record levels, ratings are creeping back up, and there’s been far fewer player protests or controversy regarding them. ESPN and other networks have simply begun starting their telecasts later, not including the anthem segments, which means that even if players are kneeling or doing other visible signs of protest they aren’t being shown on television. That in turn greatly diminishes any political capital that people like President Trump would get out of mislabeling them, since he’s not going to take enough time or trouble to determine who’s protesting because it’s not being aired anyway.
But that doesn’t mean that the league’s problems are over, especially in regards to the celebrated cases involving Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid. The Reid case took an interesting turn last week when the Carolina Panthers signed him. The Panthers have a new owner in David Tepper, and are trying to clean up an image sullied by the racist and sexist antics of former owner Jerry Richardson. Having lost starting safety Da’Norris Searcy, the Panthers signed Reid to a one-year deal.
But contrary to some who inaccurately wrote that this deal ended Reid’s grievance against the NFL, the contract did not include language that he had to drop his grievance against the NFL. It also has no impact on Keapernick’s case. Both players maintain that the league’s teams have violated Article 17 of the collective bargaining agreement which prohibits two or more teams, the league or even one team from entering into any express or implied agreement to restrict or limit individual team decision-making with respect to signing a player.
Reid was the first player to join Kaepernick in kneeling on the sidelines at 49er games in 2016. Though Kaepernick hasn’t played since that season, Reid played throughout the 2017 year and continued to be a starter, though he didn’t duplicate the success of his rookie year in 2013, when he was a first-team All-Pro, Pro Bowl starter and member of the All-Rookie Team. Still, no one thought he had reached the end of his productivity as a player, and when he became a free agent he anticipated getting several offers.
Instead, when Reid visited the Cincinnati Bengals in April, he was repeatedly asked if he planned to kneel during the anthem, and told by the team owner Mike Brown that Bengals players were required to stand for the anthem. He didn’t get an offer from them, and up until last week, had only heard from one other team, the 49ers. They offered him a one-year deal for the league minimum of $790,000. Considering that he’d earned almost six million ($5.7) the previous year, it’s no surprise he turned that deal down. The NFLPA filed a non-injury grievance on his behalf in May, a separate one from his collusion deal.
Meanwhile the Kaepernick case nears the one-year anniversary Oct. 15. Despite the recent claim of his attorney Mark Geragos that Kaepernick would be signed last week, nothing has changed on that front. The 49ers lost their starting QB to injury for the season, but are on the record saying that Kaepernick would not be considered as a possible option. The Titans have had injuries to both their starter Marcus Mariota and backup Blaine Gabbert, and Gabbert is currently in concussion protocol. But the Titans already passed last year on the chance to add Kaepernick, and show no signs of changing their position.
The chances of Kaepernick ever playing in the NFL again are at best a huge long shot. Despite the great success of the new Nike campaign featuring him as a spokesperson, and the recent award of honors from both Harvard and Time magazine, there has been no indication from any NFL team that they are interested in even working Kaepernick out, let alone signing him.
Veteran broadcaster Dan Patrick on his show recently made the comment that he felt there was definitely collusion in regards to Kaepernick, but that part of the situation was his fault because he insisted on being a starter. That’s a claim that both Kaepernick and his attorney have repeatedly denied, each one saying all he wanted was the chance to play somewhere. However there’s no denying that Kaepernick has a load of detractors and critics, even as he also has many supporters. The league remains wary of Trump using the forum of his presidency to pound them publicly. While a handful of owners in recent weeks have begun responding to the Trump verbal barrage, the vast majority of owners are either afraid or unwilling to confront him. In addition, there are certainly owners who are Trump supporters, notably the Dallas Cowboys Jerry Jones. Jones publicly promised to cut any Cowboy player that knelt for the anthem. That claim came despite the fact the league suspended the policy requiring players to stand at attention during the anthem for at least the 2018 season, and will no doubt either leave that in effect or negotiate some compromise in the off-season.
Still, both the Kaepernick and Reid cases remain active, and serve as reminders of just how little the NFL actually believes in the rights of its players to engage in peaceful protest. Even though they’ve tried to solve the problem by increasing philanthropic donations to various charities, and even issued a statement in support of Nike’s use of Kaepernick in their ad campaign, the NFL still won’t allow Kaepernick a fair shot at playing on a team.
Until that happens, regardless of how the Reid case evolves or how well he does or doesn’t play with Carolina, the NFL’s image problem will remain unresolved.