With Kaepernick’s case over, the NFL can now work on improving its broken relationship with players.
The NFL and lawyers for Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid announced on Friday that both parties had reached a settlement in their labor grievance cases. In their complaints, Kaepernick and Reid alleged that the NFL and its teams colluded to keep them out of the league due to their protests during the national anthem.
Kaepernick and Reid brought their complaints against the NFL pursuant to Article 17, section 1 of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the NFL and the NFL players association (NFLPA). Under this section, it is prohibited for a “Club, its employees or agents” to “enter into any agreement, express or implied, with the NFL or any other Club, its employees or agents to restrict or limit individual Club decision-making” in respects to “whether to offer or not to offer a Player Contract to any player.” Therefore, to make a successful claim, Kaepernick and Reid needed to establish that at least two teams had an agreement not to sign either of them to a contract.
Some argue that this settlement indicates that Kaepernick and Reid had a strong case and the NFL did not want to lose. Others claim that the NFL settled to avoid discovery and move past the NFL anthem protest controversy altogether. The answer is likely somewhere in the middle. However, one thing is certain, the NFL needs to learn from this case moving forward.
Following this case, the NFL needs to take a much better approach when it comes to its relationship with its players. Whether it is political involvement or player disciplinary issues, the NFL has had difficulty handling controversial issues. However, the conclusion of Kaepernick’s case provides the NFL with an opportunity to learn from its mistakes, turn a new leaf, and take a different approach with these issues.
The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement ends in 2020 and many expect a lockout to ensue due to disagreements over the NFL’s handling of issues such as player discipline and player political involvement. However, the NFL can avoid this lockout if it is proactive, learns from its mistakes, and improves its relationship with players.
The NFL can look to the NBA as an example of how to deal with difficult player issues. Last year there was growing concern over the relationship between NBA officials and players. The issue came to a head when Sean Livingston and referee Courtney Kirkland exchanged head-butts over a controversial call. Although the NBA issued suspensions for both parties, the NBA did not stop there. The NBA was proactive, initiating dialogue, and bringing both parties together at a summit to hash out their problems.
The NFL can follow this approach to improve its relationship with players. Following the lead of the NBA, the NFL can both enforce its own rules, while at the same time initiate dialogue among all parties to improve the relationship between the league and its players.
With respect to player protests, the league, as an employer, has the right to set and enforce its rules regarding player conduct during the national anthem. However, the league has previously simply enforced its rules without engaging in much dialogue with the parties involved.
The NFL did have a “secret” meeting between owners and players in 2017 to discuss political protests following President Trump’s criticism of players kneeling during the national anthem. However, this meeting was not very productive with some owners criticized for their remarks during the meeting. In all, the details of this meeting showed that the NFL has room for improvement when it comes to potentially damaging public relations issues.
Going forward, the NFL can improve its relationship with players by engaging in productive dialogue similar to the way the NBA did with its summit on officiating last year. The NFL can do this by bringing together league officials, NFL players, and the NFLPA every year to discuss difficult issues in the league like player protests. By engaging in regular dialogue the league will allow players to have a voice in what rules are in place and what will constitute proper conduct for player protests during games.
With the Kaepernick collusion case over, now is the time for the league to make a major push to repair its relationship with NFL players. By initiating dialogue with its players, the NFL can take a step toward improving its relationship with players and avoid a dreaded lockout when the current CBA concludes in 2020.
Ed Clemente / MGN
Twitter – NFLPA