NFL IN THE CROSS HAIRS
To collude or not to collude, that is the question
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?