Kaepernick's attorney says NFL owners were 'kowtowing' to Trump in kneeling controversy

"The collusion actually was the NFL kowtowing to the president — it's clear," Mark Geragos said.
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By Erik Ortiz

Colin Kaepernick's lawyer slammed NFL team owners on Thursday for blackballing the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, accusing them of colluding to keep Kaepernick out of the league in response to President Donald Trump's attacks on players who protest during the national anthem.

"The collusion actually was the NFL kowtowing to the president — I think it's clear," high-profile attorney Mark Geragos said Thursday in an exclusive interview on NBC's "Today."

He added that the owners of the league's 32 teams may not admit to conspiring to keep Kaepernick from playing in the NFL again, but it's apparent they're freezing him out when he remains in "spectacular shape" and none of the teams have given him a chance to prove his skills.

"There isn't anyone who has a couple of neurons firing that wouldn't say this isn't collusive activity," Geragos said.

Kaepernick, 31, first kneeled in 2016 during a preseason game to protest racial injustice and police brutality in the United States. The decision inspired players from other teams to do the same, but it also angered some fans and Trump, who considered players' kneeling during the anthem as a sign of disrespect toward U.S. service members.

Kaepernick became a free agent after the 2016 season. He has accused the league of colluding to keep him from playing, and last summer an arbitrator appointed by the league and the players' union decided the complaint holds enough merit that his case can proceed to a full hearing.

Among the evidence for collusive activity, Geragos said, is that former 49ers safety Eric Reid, who had joined Kaepernick in his protests, was signed by the Carolina Panthers in September after he filed his own grievance against the NFL.

"Eric Reid went under oath and actually testified that he would consider alternatives to kneeling," Geragos said. "Within three days, 72 hours, he had three different teams that were vying for him and to sign him. You tell me how is it that when he testified under oath, and it's supposedly a private proceeding, three teams knew enough to reach out to his agent what he had said under oath that he would consider alternatives."

On Wednesday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell attempted to sidestep questions about Kaepernick during a news conference before the Super Bowl on Sunday, saying that "if a team decides that Colin Kaepernick, or any other player, can help their team win, that's what they'll do."

His comments didn't sit well with fans and former football players.

Geragos said that Kaepernick still wants to play in the NFL, and while the kneeling controversy died down this season and a decision has yet to be made with how to deal with players who protest, he believes that "history is going to look kindly" on Kaepernick.

Protests by players aren't expected to overshadow this year's Super Bowl in Atlanta, although there was contention leading up to the game after some black artists refused offers to be part of the halftime show as sign of support for Kaepernick.

The halftime entertainment for Sunday's game will be led by Maroon 5, and joined by Atlanta-based rapper Big Boi and Houston rapper Travis Scott, both of whom are black.

Scott's involvement has come under heavy criticism from the Rev. Al Sharpton and others, but the rapper said he would perform only if the NFL agreed to help donate $500,000 to a criminal justice reform group headed by activist Van Jones.

Although previous reports said Kaepernick had given Scott his blessing to perform, Geragos denied that was the case Thursday.

"To cross the intellectual and ideological picket line, I think there's something wrong with that," he said.

Erik Ortiz

Erik Ortiz is an NBC News staff writer focusing on racial injustice and social inequality.