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Two sources told Yahoo Sports that Kaepernick has agreed to attend a meeting between a coalition of NFL players and owners sometime next week, in which the two sides will continue talks about the league’s engagement in social activism efforts. It’s the second time he has been invited to the meetings by members of the players’ coalition, but declined his first invite after confusion about whether the NFL was open to his attendance. This time around, the NFL has been notified that Kaepernick has been invited to join the meeting, despite it coming in the midst of his grievance against the league for allegedly conspiring to freeze him out of a job.
“We look forward to him joining the conversation,” NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said Wednesday.
Two sources told Yahoo Sports that Kaepernick’s attendance has been pursued by multiple players who believe he is an important voice in their efforts, which have sought to have larger league involvement in a platform promoting racial equality and judicial reform. After sitting and then eventually kneeling during the national anthem during the 2016 season, Kaepernick ignited a spate of game day protests that have continued into this season and become a rising concern for league owners.
That is what ultimately pushed the league to the meeting table with players in recent weeks, sparked largely by rants from President Donald Trump and recent statements from Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones that discipline should be levied against protesting players. The political theater has been particularly troubling for the NFL, reaching new heights of distraction when Vice President Mike Pence staged a walkout at a game between the Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers in Week 5 after some players protested during the anthem. That ultimately appeared to have been orchestrated by Trump, who said he asked Pence to walk out in the event that protests occurred during the anthem.
NFL owners have said they would like players to refrain from protests during the national anthem on game day, although it now appears that Jones is the last owner in favor of establishing hardened rules barring it. The league continues to believe that anthem protests are damaging the NFL’s bottom line, and that has led to the owners reaching out to find a solution with players.
As Jones said Sunday, “There is no question the league is suffering negative effects from these protests.”
It remains to be seen what impact Kaepernick could have with his direct involvement with meetings. But a league source told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday that there is an expectation from the NFL that Kaepernick’s inclusion in talks will draw more attention from Trump. The president has spoken both directly and indirectly about Kaepernick on a number of occasions already, most notably making a thinly veiled reference to him as a kneeling “son of a bitch” in a speech in September.
Perhaps making Kaepernick’s presence more awkward is his grievance against the NFL, which accuses both the NFL’s executive branch and its owners of colluding to keep him from signing with a team. Among other things, that grievance is seeking to dig into private communications of owners and executives over the past year, apparently in hopes of finding a smoking gun that proves teams worked together against him as a form of retribution for his protests during the anthem.
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