April 8, 2019
February 15th, 2019, started with the surprising announcement that the National Football League had settled the two civil lawsuits Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid had filed against it and, as you can imagine, the news was met with widely different reactions based on where people stood on the cases. To put it simply, if you were proKaepernick and proReid, you saw it as a win for the two men. David had just dealt a big blow to Goliath. If you were on the side of the league, you saw it as a win for this big and powerful institution. They had proven once again that they could not be touched. The truth lies somewhere inbetween and with the terms of the settlement having not been disclosed due to the clause of confidentiality both parties have agreed to include and sign, we will never know the details of what was agreed upon, but that has never stopped the media and us, the public, from speculating and attempting to make sense of the facts that are known and to ask two important and fairly obvious questions: who won?
And “what’s next?”.
First, it is important to distinguish the cause from the case. Kaepernick, Reid and other players who took a knee or raised their fist did so to protest racial inequalities, police brutality and a justice system disadvantaging Black and brown people in the US. They were all very clear about it from the very beginning, they have not deviated/strayed from their message since and have walked the walk as much as they have talked the talk. That was and remains the cause.
Kaepernick and Reid, with their lawsuit aka the case, were seeking damages for the loss of their career from the people who kept these careers away from them, the same way any of us, nonproathletes, nonmillionaires, would do if we believed we had been wronged and that this wrongdoing had caused us a loss of wage or worse. Civil lawsuits all of them are about money. Justice? Yes, sometimes.The truth? Yes, a little. Accountability? Yes. Often. Money?
What’s wrong with money? A wide and longheld belief out there is that heroes and social justice activists have to be poor or at least struggle financially in order for our consciousness to register them and accept them as genuine and truly dedicated to the causes they fight for and the sacrifices that this work entails. In his time, Muhammad Ali lost a lot, sacrificed a lot, but when he got his license back, he was able to start fighting again, start winning matches again and make a living again. Did that diminish his commitment to the cause when everything was taken away from him? Was he more legitimate behind bars? The reason people cared about his message in the first place was that he was the best in his discipline. The reason why so many people heard his message and so many were either inspired by it or disgusted by it was because he had this huge platform that his status as The Greatest afforded him. Without his initial success in the ring and the opportunities financial or otherwise that accompanied it, none of the work he did would have had the same impact because nobody would have known his name. When Kaepernick started protesting, nobody in the media noticed until the 3rd preseason game. Why? Because, that night, for the first time, he was the team’s starter again, and as such, all eyes were on him, again. The protest struck nerves, both positively and negatively because Kaepernick had already made a name for himself in the league, he had a stage to stand on and it took place during the national anthem. What is not often mentioned is that Kaepernick himself did not seek the attention. Sitting was a personal choice. When he was asked about it, however, he was ready for the questions and the spotlight to be shone on this side of him. Somehow, though, many questioned the lawsuit from inception, seeing it as proof that, all along, it was all about money. I heard more people criticize Kaepernick and Reid for filing this lawsuit and the recent settlement than Nike for making Kaepernick one of the faces of its latest large campaign celebrating the 30th anniversary of Just Do it!, thus turning itself into a “woke” company willing to take a huge chance on the “untouchable” Kaepernick, as though it had not carefully done the math and realized that by aligning its interests with Kaepernick’s would make them a lot of money. Nike knew there would be pushback and outrage for this partnership and they were right. We have all seen the calls to boycott the brand and the burning of merchandise. They also knew, however, that there would be support. A lot of it. They bet on it and won. This was a great campaign launched on TV, during the 20182019 NFL season opener on Thursday Night Football of all places and it was a smart money move. That does not mean that Nike does not care about Kaepernick and does not support him and his stance. Not at all. After all, they could have ended their partnership with him as soon as he was out of the league long enough for it to no longer appear like a temporary phase. They did not and they deserve credit for that. They also donate money to Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights campaign and camps, as part of their contract with him. Let’s not pretend, however, that it was all about social justice. They made a profit. Good for them. They are a business. That’s what businesses are supposed to do. For Nike, Kaepernick and Reid, two things can and are true at the same time: it is about social justice and money.
As I mentioned earlier, The actual terms of the settlement will most likely never be known but on March 21, 2019, Andrew Beacon of the Wall Street Journal, revealed that according to multiple sources “briefed on the case”, Reid and Kaepernick were set to receive less than $10 million from the league. Only a few people could confirm the accuracy of this number and these people have all signed nondisclosure agreements forbidding them from doing so and these facts have to be treated as allegations, but it is doubtful that the WSJ would have taken even the slightest chance of publishing erroneous information without a good dose of certainty. If this is the ballpark we are looking at, the question in many people’s minds remains: who won? I guess, like with everything else, in this case, it depends on which side you are on. The amount is irrelevant to me but it might not be to everybody, and I get it. Is it enough money? Is it too little or too much? If you were on the side of the players and bought into the initial speculations putting the amount closer to $80 million, this new estimate could feel very disappointing, like a loss, even. If you were on the side of the NFL, it could feel like a small amount to pay for a league that generates billions every year to have it all go away, something like a win. Collusion is hard to prove, especially when the burden of proof is by “clear preponderance of evidence” and even the strongest of cases do not guarantee a win at trial and so, plaintiffs have every reason to settle and get something. Reid and Kaepernick made the other side sweat, they moved the needle and they walked away with something. Did they move it enough for it to make a difference for themselves and for others in their future cases against the league is an important question that needs to be asked even though there is no right or wrong answer to it. The league on the other side is not known for capitulating to anybody under any circumstances, and yet, this time, they were forced to at least bend. The price to pay to get to keep their secrets.
So, now that the ink has dried and all of us have moved on to the next thing, where do Reid and Kaepernick go from here?
Eric Reid signed a 3year extension with the Carolina Panthers at the end of the season and I don’t see any reason for him not to continue playing at the same level, if not better, considering that by the time the new season comes around, he will have a lot more time to absorb the defensive playbook and will have developed even better chemistry with the teammates he will share the field with. As for Colin Kaepernick, only time can tell whether he will get another opportunity to play in the NFL next season, even though many of us believe he can compete for a starting job, he is better than a great number of the backup quarterbacks currently on rosters. Nothing against players who routinely get those phone calls and spots each season although most of them have never taken their team to the Super Bowl or played at the level Colin played at when he was at his best or even during his last season with the 49ers. These young men are on the market and I am not here to spoil their bags. The reality, though, is that Colin Kaepernick should be on an NFL roster, as a starting QB, or at least a backup, but he is not, and it is not (all) about football. Despite clear and sustained evidence of his dedication to the craft through the daily workouts and practices he puts himself through, some want to keep asking if he truly wants to play. He does. We all know it. And he can. We know that, too. The longer he is kept away from the field the easier it is for those who do not want him to get a new chance to point at his age and the supposed rust in his game, especially because his style of play and what made him a sensation was as much the strength of his arm than his overall athleticism. Even though, Tom Brady’s career seems to indicate that age ain’t nothing but a number, sports history, and life, in general, tell us that he is more an anomaly than the norm and Father Time does not lose to anyone. And at now 31, Kaepernick is no longer considered young in NFL years. Should he have considered the American Alliance of Football (AAF), which just launched this January with great interest from the audience and great praise for the level of play on the field from these NFL hopefuls, before it suspended its operations? Or the Canadian Football League (CFL), in which former NFL players have found success to various degrees? Or maybe even the Xtreme Football League (XFL), which will return in 2020? Many think that if he is truly serious about playing football, this should be a nobrainer and he should be one of the first in line to get a spot on the roster of one of these teams, but football is a dangerous game and playing it at any cost is not necessarily the route someone of Kaepernick’s pedigree should take just because his detractors might see it as the only proof that he, indeed, loves the game, as he says he does.
The same arguments currently used against signing Kaepernick (or even simply trying him out) were once used against Reid after his last contract with the 49ers ended and lasted until the Panthers came calling, signed him and extended him. It only took one team.
Kaepernick may never get another chance in the NFL but what he started by first taking a seat, then a knee, with Reid, is what matters the most to those of us who know all too well what racial inequalities mean to Black and brown lives on a daily basis. Not everybody was pleased with the compromises made by the Players Coalition but nobody can deny the importance of the funds raised and allocated to social justice efforts and the work done on the ground by individual players and groups of players alike. That, in itself, is a victory and a testament to the sacrifice made by one man for the good of many