Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Long didn’t negotiate the collusion settlement that vindicated Colin Kaepernick, but they certainly kept his cause alive.
Kaepernick, the quarterback who accused the NFL of blackballing him since the end of the 2016 season, and Eric Reid, his former teammate and his biggest supporter, settled their grievance Friday. The terms are confidential, but one league source told the Inquirer it’s believed Kaepernick would receive at least $50 million.
It is the latest and perhaps final chapter in the story that began in the 2016 preseason when Kaepernick, a backup for the San Francisco 49ers after 4 1/2 seasons as their starter, first sat, then knelt, during pregame performances of the national anthem to protest, among other injustices, the killing of young black men by police and the institutional indifference that followed.
Perhaps no town or team has been as invested as the Eagles in the essence of Kaepernick’s cause from its outset until now. Not every Eagles player, coach or executive agreed with Kaep. Plenty of other teams and towns offered significant support; the 49ers gave both Kaepernick and Reid a fair platform, without recrimination.
But the Eagles were hip-deep in this almost from the very start.
Jenkins supported Kaepernick in the 2016 preseason. He then joined his protest with a raised first during the national anthem on Sept. 19, 2016, on Monday Night Football in Chicago. Teammates Stephen Means, Ron Brooks, and Marcus Smith joined him. They were part of a nationwide movement of support that included both amateur and professional athletes, and both men and women. Later that season, Jenkins helped form and lead the Players Coalition, a group of current and former players that discussed issues of social injustice and reform with the NFL. When Kaepernick went unsigned in 2017 and filed his grievance claiming collusion in October of that year, Jenkins continued his protest. He was supported by several teammates, most notably Long, who is white. Long placed a hand on Jenkins’ shoulder during the anthem.
When the Eagles traded for defensive end Michael Bennett in the offseason last year, they added another of Kaepernick’s most fervent supporters.
There have been disagreements among the NFL protesters. There is a rift between Kaepernick’s camp, vocalized by Reid, and the Coalition. Reid confronted Jenkins on the field before the Panthers played the Eagles on Oct. 21. Afterward, he called Jenkins a “sellout” and said that Jenkins “co-opted” the movement for his personal gain, especially after the Coalition secured a commitment of about $89 million to combat social inequality in May.
While the form and frequency of the Eagles’ protests have not been consistent or predictable, through it all Jenkins, Long, and Bennett very loudly supported Kaepernick’s employment by the NFL. They have been quiet in the immediate aftermath of the settlement.
Jenkins was not available for comment on Friday, but tweeted this:
The terms of Reid’s settlement remain unclear, and are likely insignificant. Reid continued to protest while playing for the 49ers in 2017, but, when he went unsigned the following offseason, he also filed a collusion lawsuit against the league. He signed with the Carolina Panthers three games into the 2018 season but continued the suit, even after he signed a three-year extension with the Panthers last week.
The NFL always was going to settle once an arbitrator decided in August to send the matter to trial. There’s no way NFL owners would have exposed themselves to a discovery process that would have betrayed secrets of the league and its teams.
Will Kaepernick get a job? Probably not. The owners still fear backlash from their fans and from President Donald Trump, who, a month before Kaepernick filed his grievance, notoriously called protesters S.O.B.s and urged NFL owners to fire them while speaking at a rally in Alabama.
Will Kaepernick become more active publicly? You would hope. His protest was imperfect, and imprecise, and non-strategic, but he was always sincere and committed. He always was and always will be on the right side of history. As were those who supported him.
The protests supplied a fertile ground for dispute in a time when American discourse became ever more divisive, but the protests also sparked increased social awareness all over the world -- especially in America, and especially among NFL teams and players.
The settlement should end the nonsensical argument that Kaepernick wasn’t good enough to play the past two seasons in a league that found places for Matt Cassel and Mark Sanchez.
If you believe this isn’t an admission of guilt by the NFL -- that it is, rather, a strategy to avoid a protracted battle over a matter it has grossly and comically mishandled for more than two years at every turn -- then you are either painfully naïve or consciously arguing in bad faith.
You’re talking about a league that, after it made peace with the Players Coalition, tried to violate the collective bargaining agreement by drastically changing the workplace environment before the 2018 season by implementing rules pertaining to the anthem without negotiating with the NFLPA. Faced with howls of outrage and a grievance from the union, the NFL retreated into its cloakroom of idiocy.
The NFL emerged Friday and did something smart.