Colin Kaepernick may yet get his day in court. Kaepernick is the talented former NFL quarterback who in 2016 began a protest against police brutality and institutionalized racial discrimination by kneeling during the playing of the national anthem. Other players joined the protests. Kaepernick wasn’t protesting the anthem or the flag. He was calling on the country to live up to its principles. President Trump led the outcry against the protesters, slurring any player who takes a knee as a “son of a bitch.”
The league owners panicked. One result was that Kaepernick — one of the most talented quarterbacks in a league that suffers a shortage of skilled players in that position — found himself locked out of a job. He couldn’t even get a tryout. He filed a grievance against the league and the 32 teams, calling the action against him a violation of the league’s players contract, as well as an affront to free speech. An arbitrator handed down a decision Thursday to send Kaepernick’s grievance to trial and dismissed the owners’ motion for summary judgment, finding that Kaepernick had raised sufficient evidence that there was an express or implied agreement between the teams to keep him out of the league.
The collusion is obvious. According to the Wall Street Journal, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones stated in a sworn deposition that Trump instructed him to tell the owners that the president would continue to attack the league as long as the protests continued.
“This is a very winning, strong issue for me,” Trump said, according to the deposition, brazenly admitting to the race-based poison politics that he practices with venom. It isn’t hard to realize that the owners, terrified that continued Trump attacks would damage their revenues, decided to lock Kaepernick out as a warning to other players and, of course, they made a sacrificial offering to Trump.
Kaepernick is being punished for expressing his beliefs. He stands in a long tradition of African-American champions who were punished for stepping out of line. Jack Johnson, the first African-American world heavyweight boxing champion, sparked race riots across the country when he won the title in 1908. He further crossed racial boundaries by “consorting” with white women, three of whom he married. He was convicted of violating the Mann Act for transporting a woman across state lines for immoral purposes — for an affair that took place before the act was even passed into law.
He left the country and spent seven years fighting abroad, before returning to spend months in jail. Ironically, it was Donald Trump who finally gave him a posthumous pardon from this injustice. Muhammad Ali, the most famous champion of all, was prosecuted for evading the draft during the Vietnam War. A convert to Islam, he claimed conscientious objector status. In 1967, at the height of his career, he was banned from boxing for three years, and sentenced to prison for five, a conviction the Supreme Court eventually overturned. Curt Flood, the three-time All-Star center fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, refused to accept a trade in 1969, arguing that baseball’s enforcement of lifetime contracts was a clear violation of antitrust laws.
The Supreme Court ruled against him, and Flood was essentially blackballed. Finally, in 1998, Congress passed the Curt Flood Act, formally making Major League Baseball play by the same antitrust rules as other professional sports. Kaepernick’s protest — joined by fellow athletes across the league — has brought national attention to the question of police brutality, even as Trump and others have slandered the players by insisting they are insulting the flag and the national anthem. Kaepernick’s grievance — if the courts are not as intimidated by Trump’s tantrums as the owners were — will expose the self-evident collusion that has locked him out of the league.
The owners should pay dearly for their folly. Colin Kaepernick is already paying a harsh price for his expressing his views. A talented athlete at the peak of his career is being locked out of his profession. Jerry Jones says that Trump told him: “Tell everybody, you can’t win this one. This one lifts me.” It may “lift” Trump, but it disgraces the owners, the league and the country.