On Feb. 15, Colin Kaepernick announced in a joint statement with the National Football League (NFL) that the two had reached a settlement in the collusion lawsuit he filed in 2017. The case was brought to the NFL in October 2017 when he accused NFL teams of violating the anti-collusion clause of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA). He claimed he had gone unsigned after the conclusion of the 2016-2017 season because the NFL and its owners “colluded to deprive Mr. Kaepernick of employment rights in retaliation for Mr. Kaepernick’s leadership and advocacy for equality and social justice and his bringing awareness to peculiar institutions still undermining racial equality in the United States,” according to the lawsuit.
Both sides agreed to sign confidentiality agreements, so the amount of the settlement and the reasoning by the NFL to settle will continue to be hidden from the public, but sports and political analysts alike have done their fair share of speculation. Supposed amounts have soared into seven and eight figures, while the reasoning is more elusive. The next step in the legal process would have been to hold a hearing on the case, which would have led to a semi-public airing of grievances by both the NFL and Kaepernick. This had the potential to expose some of the inner workings of league business, and it’s possible the NFL was reluctant to allow that information to be available to the public. Perhaps they chose to settle to simply move on from the contentious issue and stop the negative press on the league. Legal experts told the New York Times that collusion cases are notoriously difficult to prove, which makes it “highly unusual” for the league to settle a case like this. Whatever the reason, it has brought the issue back to the forefront of NFL news.
The settlement concludes the two year saga between Kaepernick and the NFL that began when Kaepernick, the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers at the time, chose to protest police brutality and racism by kneeling during the national anthem of a preseason game. This sent off a shock wave across the NFL, and while many joined in Kaepernick’s protest and knelt with him, others were enraged at the act. He has since become a polarizing figure and outspoken advocate for social justice, but was cast out of the NFL and felt he was being blackballed for his politics by NFL teams. After repeatedly meeting with general managers and owners of different teams, he was never signed or offered a workout. His name has stayed in the quarterback discussion, however. Recent seasons have seen multiple starting quarterbacks lost to injuries only to be replaced by a freshly signed quarterback that has less experience or worse stat lines than Kaepernick, prompting many to question why he was never signed by any team.
In the interim, Kaepernick signed a deal with Nike which made him the face of their new advertising slogan, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.” This quote, along with Kaepernick’s face graced large billboards in New York City to demonstrate support for the athlete’s protest. Nike continued to capitalize on this opportunity when, five days following the settlement, they released a black limited edition $150 Kaepernick jersey with white numbering and lettering. The jersey is known as the “Icon” jersey and has his last name printed on the back above his number seven in the normal style of NFL jerseys. However, the jersey has no team logo or affiliation printed and is blank where the NFL logo is present on all other standard NFL jerseys. The jerseys sold out within a few hours of going on sale.
Kaepernick forced the league to confront important social justice issues, but it is unclear whether or not the settlement will help him get signed by a team this season. The NFL cannot force teams to sign him, and its teams may try to ignore him as a quarterback prospect this offseason. However, his lawyer Mark Geragos remained optimistic, telling the press that Kaepernick “absolutely wants to play” and “I think you’re going to see… within the next two weeks that somebody is going to step up and do the right thing, and you want me to predict who? Besides the Panthers, it would not surprise me if Bob Kraft [of the New England Patriots] makes a move.” It is still unclear what Kaepernick’s future with the NFL will hold, but the lawsuit is finally settled which perhaps will provide some closure.