Colin Kaepernick defeated the NFL in a legal battle, and, make no mistake, that is one heck of a victory. The league possesses both the resources for interminable court battles and the ego to never admit a mistake.
The NFL spent millions and millions fighting Tom Brady over the inflation levels of a football. It spent millions and millions fighting the legalization of sports wagering, all the way to the Supreme Court. (Then when the league lost, it immediately cashed in, of course.)
Against Kap and his claim that teams colluded against him, however … the NFL quit.
The two sides reached a settlement Friday, and while the details haven’t been revealed, the fact the NFL was willing to concede any ground is significant, if not historic.
Of course, if this thing ever got to trial, Kaepernick’s lawyers probably needed only to hold up a picture of Brandon Weeden on the roster of last season’s Houston Texans and they would have immediately received access to Jerry Jones’ personal checking account.
Settlement equals defeat here for the NFL.
Here’s the thing, though: Despite the loss, it stands to reason the league is fairly pleased with how not having Colin Kaepernick around the past two seasons turned out. That isn’t an assessment for the dreamers out there, but NFL owners are realists, not dreamers.
Whether the payout to Kaepernick is $1 million or $100 million – here’s guessing it’s a lot closer to the latter – it’s the cost of doing business for a league that really cares only about business.
Kaepernick’s protests had long ago been hijacked by political opportunists. This could have been a way to use football – America’s communal entertainment love – to spark discussion about a host of important topics. That includes both what Kaepernick was protesting and why some fans believe the flag should be beyond reproach. There’s more common ground here than many believe.
Instead, everyone just went to their corners and shouted. The other side was full of only racists. The other side was just un-American. Nuance and complexities were ignored. About the only entities that gained from the debate were Donald Trump and the charitable movements that Kaepernick funded.
Following the 2016 season, the NFL just wanted it all to end. Players were divided. Coaches were divided. Owners were divided. And, most importantly to the league, fans were divided.
The NFL could fund social-justice initiatives or haul out even larger American flags or create new policies (stay in the locker room) or kneel alongside the players and it just wasn’t going to end.
Owners, being owners, mostly resented Kaepernick for making them – and their business – uncomfortable. The all-powerful don’t care much for getting poked in the chest. Since the owners couldn’t control Kaepernick or Trump – or the reactions each were capable of generating – they tried to end it.
So they got rid of Kaepernick. There might not be some memo with Roger Goodell’s signature declaring no one was allowed to sign Colin Kaepernick, but the message was clear. Kaepernick’s benefits no longer outweighed his cost, at least at a league-wide level. That’s how it works for all employees, of course. Kaepernick was no longer an elite quarterback. He was better than most guys, but not better enough to endure the backlash.
Tom Brady could probably burn an American flag in the middle of Gillette Stadium and the Patriots would keep starting him in perpetuity.
Kaepernick isn’t Brady. He’s a smart guy, though, so he knew that going in. He was free to kneel and everyone else was free to react as they saw fit to that kneeling – some loved him for it, some hated him for it.
The owners were among the hate group. So no one signed Kaepernick, and just as they likely predicted, across the past two seasons the anthem protest situation simmered down.
Almost no one was protesting by the end of 2017 and it was an afterthought for the 2018 season. Television networks even stopped showing the anthem. Other than when Nike produced a Kaepernick commercial or Trump tried to use it as a political wedge issue, it rarely bubbled up into a major news story.
The owners were pleased. Fans stopped booing. Television ratings surged again – although a significant part of that was likely due to the aforementioned legalization of sports wagering in a growing number of states.
So now comes the bill. Let’s say it is something huge, such as $100 million in lost wages, damages and the convenience of the NFL avoiding discovery. It’s a lot of money, unless you’re a conglomeration of nearly three dozen billionaires.
That’s about $1.5 million per owner, per season, to begin to put what they saw not as a discussion point or a civil protest but an annoying threat to their bottom line.
They probably would have paid 10 times that amount.
So score one for Kaepernick. He stuck to his guns and beat the NFL in a game the NFL rarely loses. But, as always, here’s guessing the billionaires think they won in the end.
Maybe one day in the future, when all the vitriol dies down and the opportunists fade, the entire issue can bring some perspective and discussion. Maybe there is some good to come. Maybe.
Then again, there remains one big question: If the lawsuit is settled, does that mean someone might actually sign Colin Kaepernick?
After all, if Brandon Weeden can get a job …
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