Colin Kaepernick's absence looms at NFL owners meeting with players

Charles Robinson
NFL columnist

NEW YORK – Despite being exiled from the league, Colin Kaepernick has been invited by active players to participate in their discussions with team owners about the future of protests and social activism in the NFL.

Kaepernick didn’t attend Tuesday’s meetings between ownership, league officials, and players, ultimately declining to join the group at the league’s Park Avenue office in Manhattan. The four-plus hour meeting – which encompassed dialogue about social activism and national anthem protests – concluded without any concrete agreement between the two sides. Instead, owners and players exited saying it was a positive talk and that a future meeting is expected to continue the discourse.

Perhaps the most notable piece of news came from Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, who told reporters afterward that Kaepernick had been asked to attend the meeting but passed. Jenkins said he didn’t know why the quarterback declined.

The Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins (middle) addresses the media after meeting with NFL owners and league officials on Tuesday. (AP)

Kaepernick’s lawyer Mark Geragos issued a statement saying the quarterback wasn’t officially invited to Tuesday’s meetings by anyone on the NFL’s side of the table.

“Colin Kaepernick was not invited to attend today’s meeting by any official from the NFL or any team executives,” Geragos said in a statement. “Other players wanted him present and have asked that he attend the next meeting with the goal of forging a lasting and faithful consensus around these issues. Mr. Kaepernick is open to future participation on these important discussions.”

Kaepernick’s future involvement would add an interesting – if not awkward – wrinkle to the discussions, considering he filed a grievance on Sunday accusing the NFL and its owners of colluding to freeze him out of the league. That grievance and the allegations of blackballing are expected to move forward to a labor arbitrator at some point, and any potential discovery would seek to dig into the personal communications of both owners and teams. Regardless of that reality, it didn’t stop players from inviting Kaepernick to the table Tuesday, and the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback now appears inclined to attend in the future.

It’s unknown exactly what role Kaepernick would play. Since hitting free agency in March, he has been largely silent where it has concerned anthem protests and the social justice reform movement players have embraced. In some ways, the void created by his absence in the league has allowed others to step forward more prominently as social activism voices. Jenkins, who spoke for the players on hand Tuesday, has been one. Former wideout Anquan Boldin has been another.

Both were among 14 current and former players who attended  Tuesday’s meeting representing the players’ interests, as well as executives from the union. The NFL came to the table with an executive panel that included commissioner Roger Goodell and 11 NFL owners. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones – who appeared to enflame talks between players and owners by stating his team must stand for the national anthem – was not among that group of owners.

While nothing concrete came out of the meeting  Tuesday, owners and Goodell seemed unified in expressing two things: First, that the league did not lay down any mandate that players must halt any anthem protests; and second, that talks were positive and the exchange of ideas has given the league an opportunity to engage in action that might result in protests ending organically.

“The lines of communication seem to be open and functional,” New York Giants co-owner Steve Tisch said. “I think it’s a very, very good step in the right direction. … It’s the first step, I hope, of a number of steps in the right direction. I think there are a lot of proposals and ideas that were discussed this afternoon – all of them addressing the issue quickly, which it needs to be addressed sooner than later.”

Goodell told reporters Tuesday evening that league officials didn’t ask a commitment that players stand during the anthem.

“We did not ask for that,” Goodell said. “We spent today talking about the issues that players have been trying to bring attention to – issues to make our communities better. I think we all agree there’s nothing more important than trying to give back to our communities and make them better. That was the entire focus of today.”

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