UNNECESSARY ROUGHNESS Football player uses union contract to advance human rights stand

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COLIN KAEPERNICK IS A SPECIAL FOOTBALL PLAYER. He has a conscience. It’s what led him to protest the systemic racism in the USA. It’s why no team will give him a job any more.

He had a job in 2016 as quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. He had a solid record in many years with the team. He even led the team to a Super Bowl Championship appearance in 2012—their first in 18 years.

But, it was not what he could do on the field that mattered. What mattered was what he did off the field on the sidelines before the game. He refused to stand during the playing of the national anthem. Now no team wants him.

Kaepernick took the action as a visible protest against the unrelenting mistreatment of African Americans, particularly exemplified by the failure to punish police officers who shot down and killed, without reason, a string of African American men.

Kaepernick explained his action this way:

“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.”

Kaepernick’s kneeling touched off a nationwide controversy. Many players and fans took his side. Most didn’t. Most wanted his kneeling to be about something else—not racism. Most wanted it to be about failing to respect the flag and the military. Most wanted it to be a test of patriotism. A test they believe Colin Kaepernick fails.

The president of the United States himself called on the team owners to fire any player who “took a knee” in solidarity with Kaepernick and his fight against racism.

By the sixth week of season nobody had. Perhaps because the players are part of a union and are covered by a collective agreement. The same collective agreement Kaepernick says entitles him to a settlement of a legitimate grievance he has against the owners.

Labour rights are human rights
Kaepernick says the owners are ganging up on him: colluding to see to it he doesn’t get to play and earn a living. They are violating his labour rights. And, in a perfect illustration of the interdependence of all our rights, they are doing it because of his stand on human rights.

“Our union has a duty to assist Mr. Kaepernick as we do all players and we will support him,” the NFL Players’ Association said, adding that it had been in regular contact with Kaepernick’s representatives over the past year about his options.

The collective agreement specifically prohibits team owners from colluding to “blackball” a player and so block him from ever being hired.

Collusion by team owners in professional sports is certainly not new. The most notable cases have involved Major League Baseball. In 1990, the league agreed to pay $280 million to settle a raft of collusion cases that were incontrovertibly clear-cut.

In the MLB collusion battle, players were able to assemble witness statements and other evidence to make their case. The case also produced long-standing mistrust of the owners. Baseball commissioner Fay Vincent lectured his bosses, “The single biggest reality you guys have to face up to is collusion. You stole $280 million from the players, and the players are unified to a man around that issue, because you got caught and many of you are still involved.”

Kaepernick will need to provide clear and concrete evidence, like paper memos, taped conversations or emails, to prove his case. The grievance will go to a neutral arbitrator, who may need months to hear the evidence and issue a ruling.

If the arbitrator finds in Kaepernick’s favor, the next step would be to estimate the value of any contract he would have received and then triple it to accommodate punitive damages.

Colin Kaepernick chose to fight the good fight and he did. We all want it to end in his favour. But if it does not we will still be able to celebrate and emulate the courage and conviction of someone ready to take a risk for what he just knows is right.


This article was originally published by The Canadian Labour Institute.  

Reprinted with permission for CALM Members use.