The attorney for Colin Kaepernick denied an NFL assertion on Tuesday that the quarterback hasn’t responded to an overture from the league to meet one-on-one with commissioner Roger Goodell.
League spokesman Joe Lockhart said the NFL extended an invitation to Kaepernick on Oct. 31 for a private meeting with Goodell. Lockhart said the invite was sent to Kaepernick by vice president of operations Troy Vincent but that the quarterback never responded. That touched off a gruff response from Kaepernick’s attorney Mark Geragos, who said Lockhart’s claim was false and that the former 49ers star would agree to meet with Goodell if a mediator was present.
Geragos said he made that offer to the NFL on Nov. 1 and the NFL refused any meeting between Kaepernick and Goodell with a mediator present.
“We responded immediately [to the Oct. 31 invite] that Colin would be happy to attend,” Geragos said of a personal meeting with Goodell. “Because of the grievance we asked that a mediator be present. A mediator would ensure that the discussions were productive and confidential and not used as a public relations stunt or prop by the league. Colin’s proposal was rejected.”
Lockhart said Geragos’ claim was “disingenuous” and that Kaepernick’s camp never responded to the one-on-one invitation.
“Troy reached out to Colin directly – not to his lawyer – and said, ‘If you want to come in, come in,’ ” Lockhart said. “This isn’t about his lawyer. This isn’t about a mediator. The question of, ‘Has [Colin] been invited in?’, the answer is yes. This isn’t part of any grievance process. This is part of the overall discussion we’ve been having on some of these social issues.”
Members of Kaepernick’s camp told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday that he’s still open to meeting with Goodell privately. But any talks would be about the social justice issues that the NFL and players have been discussing – not about the grievance he has filed accusing the league of blackballing him from a roster spot. Lockhart said the NFL would be open to that social activism dialogue in a one-on-one setting that allowed Goodell to speak directly to Kaepernick. But any request for a mediator would shut down the plan.
“If he wants to come in and have a discussion with the commissioner, he’s welcome to come in,” Lockhart said. “We don’t need a third party. The commissioner has met with and talked to a bunch of players and they don’t have mediators.”
The wrinkle in that statement by Lockhart – that other players don’t have mediators in their one-on-one meetings – is that Kaepernick is the only one who currently has a grievance against the league. The collusion charges have put Kaepernick into an entirely separate category from the others who have met with Goodell, merely for the fact that he’s pursuing two different things – his social activism and also his allegations against the league.
Perhaps unintended, the back and forth between Kaepernick’s camp and the NFL has provided a window into the frustration that is developing between the league and players in recent weeks. A source close to the talks between NFL owners and the Players Coalition told Yahoo Sports that a Nov. 13 meeting in New York was proposed by the athletes but appears to now be cratering. Why? The players are requesting that – like Kaepernick’s alleged Nov. 1 request for his own private meeting with Goodell – a mediator be involved in the talks with owners.
The reason for the request apparently stems from players feeling that concrete steps are not being taken by the league to move forward with any kind of social activism agenda. Now the players would like to have a defined meeting in which the two sides can share proposals in a way that offers some structure and steps to advance. The NFL has thus far rejected the use of a mediator, suggesting that “direct dialogue” between the players and owners has been productive.
According to a source familiar with the talks, Goodell and NFL representatives have continued to seek private one-on-one meetings with certain members of the Players Coalition, rather than a larger group meeting. That has drawn some leeriness from some members of the group.
“It’s classic divide and conquer,” one source close to the coalition told Yahoo Sports. “The strength is meeting together collectively and Roger [Goodell] and Troy [Vincent] are trying to split that up into individual meetings.”
The argument between the two sides now centers on what constitutes direct dialogue. The players argue that a neutral mediator would still maintain direct dialogue between the players and owners, but move the conversation forward for both sides. The league, meanwhile, sees that as putting one more person into the middle of the process and that person could jeopardize progress.
Whether any progress is being made in the middle of this argument is up for debate. But one thing isn’t: the last collective meeting between the two sides was nearly three weeks ago. Players are still kneeling during the national anthem and the NFL is still doing damage control with advertisers, fans and sponsors. All the while, progress seems to be getting distant in the rear-view mirror.