Standing on Principle: Colin Kaepernick's NFL Settlement

*The Breakdown is The North Star's daily analysis of an essential news story designed to provide historical context, go beyond the popular headlines, and offer a glimpse of where this story may be going next.


Key Facts: Last week former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid settled their collusion lawsuit against the National Football League (NFL). This is a huge loss for a sports league known to want to crush people in court. The case against the NFL was strong. The evidence was so overwhelming, revealing that Kaepernick was kept out of the league for non-football reasons. The NFL clearly did not want to drag it out.

No modern athlete has paid a bigger price for speaking out against injustice than Colin Kaepernick. During the prime of his physical career, Kaepernick was not offered even a tryout – by any team -- for over two years. During that time, more than 100 quarterbacks, many of them older or far less experienced, were given a shot. For some, the settlement, which is rumored to be between $60 to $80 million, represents some kind of a capitulation on Kaepernick's part. That is completely misguided. Without saying a single word or conducting even one interview, Colin Kaepernick made the NFL pay for what they did to him--and kept his integrity throughout the entire ordeal.

Historical Context: Sports leagues have been punishing revolutionary Black athletes for generations. We are often quick to note how boxing stripped Muhammad Ali of his title and banned him from the sport for over three years for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War. However, his experience is just one of many more modern examples. Craig Hodges repeatedly won the 3-point contest winner in the National Basketball Association (NBA) and twice led the entire league in 3-point field goal percentage. After helping the Chicago Bulls win the NBA championship, Hodges wore a dashiki to the White House and passed George Bush a letter about his problematic role in the War on Drugs, among other issues. Shortly after the visit, the Bulls cut Hodges and he never played another game in the NBA.

The NBA did the same thing to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf four years later, when he refused to participate in the National Anthem. Abdul-Rauf was a star, but because he refused to conform, he was first suspended for a single game and then released in the prime of his career. He was 29 years old and never had another chance to play.

Beneath the Surface: The NFL would love for Kaepernick to take this money and move on, but he is clearly still intending to continue his NFL career. And why shouldn’t he? He is 10 years younger than Tom Brady and 9 years younger than Drew Brees. The real question is this: if the NFL settled a lawsuit for colluding to keep Colin Kaepernick out of the league, will they continue to do the very thing that landed them in this spot, or will teams let the past be the past and finally give Kaepernick the shot he deserves?

What’s Next: My best guess is that Colin Kaepernick not only intends to play in the NFL this season, but that he will devote time and energy over the next few months to obtaining a roster spot. If Kaep does not get signed before the season begins, I believe he will still keep himself in shape all season to be ready if the right opportunity comes. If it doesn’t happen this season, I think Kaepernick will transition himself into his-post NFL life. Two years ago, I pledged that I would never watch another game again until a team gave Kaep a chance. My personal boycott continues.


About the Author

Shaun King is the co-founder and CEO of The North Star. Hailed by Time magazine as one of the 25 most influential people in the world on the Internet, King brings striking clarity to the insidious and complicated picture of racism today. As a journalist, King has authored 1,500 articles on injustice since the start of the Black Lives Matter Movement. He is co-founder of the Real Justice PAC, and the voice of social justice on the legendary Tom Joyner Morning Show.