PHILADELPHIA (CN) — An arbitrator advanced claims Thursday that all 32 NFL team owners colluded against quarterback Colin Kaepernick because he takes a knee during the national anthem to protest social injustice.
Though he led the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance and NFC championship game in consecutive seasons, Kaepernick has not been added to any NFL roster since he became a free agent in 2017.
On Thursday Kaepernick’s lawyer Mark Geragos tweeted a picture of a ruling that shows arbitrator Stephen Burbank rejected the NFL’s effort to dismiss his case. Unless Kaepernick and the NFL negotiate a settlement first, the ruling means Kaepernick’s grievance will proceed to trial before Burbank later this year.
Kaepernick, 30, contends the owners violated their collective bargaining agreement with players by conspiring to keep him off of teams. His case hinges on whether owners worked together rather than decided individually not to sign him.
Teams have denied blackballing Kaepernick because of his political views, with one anonymous NFL executive telling football reporter Albert Breer last year that he doesn’t “like the guy as a player” and doesn’t think Kaepernick can play quarterback at a high level.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy declined to comment on the arbitrator’s ruling. Kaepernick’s attorney meanwhile has not replied to an email seeking comment.
As quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers in 2016, Kaepernick began a wave of protests by NFL players when he began sitting and later kneeling during the anthem before preseason games to protest police brutality and racial inequality.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he told an NFL.com reporter around the time he began protesting. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Following his lead, other NFL players and athletes have engaged in similar silent protests. In September 2017, more than 200 NFL players sat or kneeled because President Donald Trump called for owners to “fire” the protesting players.
The protests have grown into one of the most polarizing issues in sports. The league and players union still haven’t resolved whether players will be punished this season if they choose to protest during the national anthem.
In May 2018, the NFL commissioner and team owners approved a new policy that gives players the option to either stand during the anthem or stay in the locker room while it plays. The league and union put that on hold, however, after the Miami Dolphins faced backlash for classifying the protests as conduct potentially detrimental to the team — putting players at risk of fines or suspensions.