NFL Player Coalition Drama Jeopardizes Progress Made

By Albert Breer
November 30, 2017
Michael Zagaris/Getty Images

By the time Niners safety Eric Reid decided to say something, more than three hours of the breakthrough meetings between NFL players and owners were in the books. And the dialogue, according to those in the room on that October Tuesday, was unprecedented with a number of people on both sides explaining that there was a focus on moving from protest to progress.

Quiet to that point, Reid spoke up: “What about Kaepernick?”

It appears that is where we are now. On Tuesday, ESPN’s Jim Trotter and Jason Reid reported, and we’ve verified, that the NFL and players have a basic agreement on a plan to contribute up to $100 million on causes important to African-American communities. Per Reid and Trotter, the seven-year deal will seek to make an impact on both the national level and the local level.

But just as the news was breaking, Reid and Dolphins safety Michael Thomas tweeted a statement withdrawing from the Players Coalition, the group headed by Malcolm Jenkins and Anquan Boldin that negotiated the deal saying “we don’t believe the coalition’s belief are in our best interest as a whole.”

The problem? Well, it’s existed since summer, and it was there during the end of that October meeting. It illustrates our lesson for the week: This situation is complicated, and the players have split into factions as a result.

Those on both sides acknowledge that there’s one group of players looking forward, and another looking back. The group looking forward, led by Jenkins and Boldin, is focused on pushing the process, and this landmark deal is a clear sign of how far they’ve come. The one looking back isn’t interested much in doing anything with the league until Colin Kaepernick has a job.

Meanwhile, there has been some frustration among those in the Players Coalition that Kaepernick hasn’t personally set the record straight on being invited to the meeting in New York. Jenkins said afterward that Kaepernick was, which was later disputed by Kaepernick’s lawyers. A subsequent meeting to involve Kaepernick was cancelled.

The concern now is that these cracks in the foundation of the movement that Kaepernick started more than a year ago could undermine the deal that the coalition struck and the good will built between the sides. To be sure, the owners have had to work through their own internal disagreements on this subject, and it remains delicate on their side as well.

And so as those involved see it, no matter how the deal is finalized, it’s important that the league and players emerge from it united and committed to seeing it through. My colleague Kalyn Kahler had Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard, a member of the Players Coalition, on the phone on Wednesday, and she asked him about Reid and Thomas leaving the coalition.

“I haven’t heard anything about it, I can’t really speak on it, but I know Eric is true to the cause of Kaepernick, so I’m sure it has something to do with that,” he said.

Woodyard then added, on the deal itself, “I think that’s great. If you look at it, all of our sports markets can impact any community. That shows the world that the NFL is trying to take a step in the right way. Obviously, you can’t make everybody happy, but it’s a step. Kaepernick, he made the first step, and it took us a year to really get some movement and emotion in our movement, but now we’re here. It’s baby steps right now, but like I said, we have to continue to use this platform and bring awareness to every injustice out there and hopefully we can get things changed.”

Here’s hoping the players, and any owners scattered, can find a way to come together on this one. If for nothing else than because there are a lot of good people who busted their bottoms working on it.

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