Faced with an unflattering social justice advertising campaign by one of its most moneyed business partners, the National Football League on Tuesday seemed to offer an olive branch to Colin Kaepernick.
Nike unveiled an ad campaign Monday featuring Kaepernick as an athlete who took a knee for justice "even if it means sacrificing everything," including his career with the league.
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NFL spokeswoman Jocelyn Moore said in a statement Tuesday that the issues raised by Kaepernick "deserve our attention and action."
Kaepernick, then the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, sparked debate in the league and across America in 2016 when he began kneeling during the national anthem before games. While some other players followed suit, some fans, including President Donald Trump, characterized the protests as disrespectful to members of the armed forces.
The next year Kaepernick opted out of his contract with 49ers, and his absence from the NFL since has been attributed by league critics to his pregame political displays. Kaepernick said his protests were about police brutality.
"The National Football League believes in dialogue, understanding and unity," Moore said. "We embrace the role and responsibility of everyone involved with this game to promote meaningful, positive change in our communities. The social justice issues that Colin and other professional athletes have raised deserve our attention and action."
The league on Tuesday also highlighted its own post-Kaepernick "social justice initiative," which includes "a significant financial commitment" to issues of education and economic advancement, relationships between police and the communities officers serve, and support for criminal justice reform.
Kaepernick filed a grievance against the NFL, accusing owners of conspiring to keep him out of the league because of his protests. Last week, an arbitrator allowed the case to proceed to trial, denying the league’s request to throw the case out.