NFL IN THE CROSS HAIRS

To collude or not to collude, that is the question

Colin Kaepernick and now Eric Reid might expose more issues in the NFL. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Word hit the NFL Wednesday that former 49ers safety Eric Reid, brother of newly drafted Texans safety Justin Reid, has followed Colin Kaepernick’s lead in filing a grievance against the league alleging collusion to keep him from playing. The doubling of players filing collusion grievances will return to an afterthought again while the offseason rolls on, but I thought I would take a moment and address this and its potential impact on the league, which could go beyond the original intent.

First, Kaepernick is and continues to be a lightning rod in the NFL and its relation to politics and community interaction. When he began his protest, it split the country into groups either for or against him. His original intent was lost in the narrative of divisive political pandering that even the President of the United States Donald Trump used opposition to it as an issue to rally his base.

One such owner who has gotten himself into hot water over this and other issues is Texans owner Bob McNair. His comments in a league meeting about “inmates running the prison” was widely denounced at the time it was leaked, but further quotes from him have showed he is completely against the protest.

It was no surprise then that he was deposed this past March in the Colin Kaepernick case. He was not the only one, as Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti has also been under the spotlight. But to many it was easy to look hard at the Texans. Especially in 2017 when starting quarterback Deshaun Watson, who plays a similar style as Kaepernick, went down with a season ending injury and it was obvious his replacement wasn’t very good.

But it has been six months since his grievance was filed. More importantly it has been seven weeks since Eric Reid hit free agency and has had only one conversation with an NFL team, the Cincinnati Bengals. During that conversation Reid was asked directly about whether he would continue his protest and when he declined to provide a commitment that he would stop, he was left without an offer.

In their minds, and in the minds of others; both players are being blackballed because of their protest. Both players remain committed to it and both remain unsigned. But the interesting argument against them is simply their perceived lack of talent. And neither player can make a clear case that their play on the field makes them a shoe-in for the 53-man roster of an NFL team.

But in the bigger picture, the Kaepernick case is moving forward and the discovery process will include communications from owners across the league. Reid has hired the same attorney, Mark Geragos, to handle his case and will be privy to the same evidence. What comes out of that may or may not be damning, but it could expose how owners communicate their displeasure with players on any number of issues.

Beyond just collusion against these two players, there may be others who have ruffled a few feathers and have subsequently been withheld from rosters by owner collusion. Evidence may also show how much corporate sponsors play a role in this protest. Papa John’s Pizza has already been exposed in this regard. It’s not a stretch to assume that a lot the league’s dirty laundry may be aired during this process.

At a time when the NFL is facing bad PR from these anthem protests; they are also still dealing with the blowback from domestic violence incidents and the focus on head injuries, as well as other concerns from the public. They can ill afford more secrets being spilled. They also can’t afford to have more players jumping on this grievance claim, which is why they will have to throw everything they have at this to keep it out of the courts.

I can’t say what will happen because I’m sure both Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid will try their best to expose the ugly truth. They may not settle for anything less than an open airing of what has really kept them off an NFL roster.

As a final thought, how will this affect Texans rookie Justin Reid? His brother has just filed a grievance related to the anthem protest. Will he take up the mantle and kneel during the national anthem? Or will Bob McNair put the kibosh on it before he has a chance to start?

 



 

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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