Players Kneel After Texans Team Owner Calls Them ‘Inmates,’ Kaepernick’s Lawyers Press for Seat at the Table

By Sameer Rao Oct 30, 2017

Black National Football League (NFL) players’ dissatisfaction with the league’s handling of kneeling protests against racist policing took another turn over the weekend. Players protested a White team owner after he made derogatory remarks about their actions, while another player said that officals rejected the latest attempt to discuss criminal justice reform.

Reuters reports that nearly 40 members of the Houston Texans kneeled before their game against the Seattle Seahawks yesterday (October 29). The players protested in response to team owner (and President Donald Trump campaign contributor) Robert McNair. ESPN reported Friday (October 27) that McNair critiqued players’ ongoing protests—and their alleged impact on ratings, sponsorship and other revenue streams—at a league meeting, saying, "We can’t have the inmates running the prison." The Houston Chronicle says that McNair publicly apologized twice for the comments, saying in one statement that he was referring to NFL front office employees acting without owners’ input.

His actions did little to curb players’ disappointment. The Chronicle adds that players DeAndre Hopkins and D’Onta Foreman didn’t practice with the team on Friday in direct response to McNair’s remarks. Teammate Duane Brown told The Chronicle that McNair’s meeting with players the following day (October 28) went poorly. He didn’t elaborate on what went wrong, but said that he "wasn’t surprised" by McNair and that he’s "sure [the issue] will come up again."

ESPN reported that NFL executives, members of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) union and Players Coalition—a group of former and current players pushing the league to support activism on criminal justice reform—planned to discuss the protests and league support of criminal justice reform at a meeting in Philadelphia today (October 30). League officials told ESPN that they extended an invite to both McNair and Colin Kaepernick, the unsigned quarterback who launched the kneeling protests last year. Kaepernick recently accused the league of locking him out of the league as punishment for his protests, echoing criticism leveled by his supporters. But Kaepernick’s lawyer Mark Geragos told Slate yesterday that his client never received an invitation.

"We specifically reached out to the [NFL Players Association] and to the Players Coalition and we were verbatim told that Colin had no role,” Kaepernick’s attorney Mark Geragos told Slate. Ben Meiselas, another of Kaepernick’s lawyers, repeated that claim in an October 25 email to NFLPA and NFL legal counsels:

Upon reading about the invitation (that was never received) in the media today, we reached out to the NFL, through counsel copied here, who confirmed that the NFL is not responsible for the invitation and therefore could not and did not invite Mr. Kaepernick, although the NFL did not object to Mr. Kaepernick attending and would welcome his attendance on these most important issues if invited. We would agree, obviously, that the grievance would not be discussed. In response to my queries, the NFL explained it was not aware if it was the NFLPA, or a separate "players coalition," responsible for the invites.


I understand [that] at the last meeting, there was an attendance list prepared in advance, so someone clearly is responsible for this area. Who is responsible for the list?

NFLPA attorney Tom DePaso responded in another email published by Slate, saying that neither the union nor the league was primarily responsible for reaching out to Kaepernick. He pointed Meiselas to Philadelphia Eagles player and Players Coalition leader Malcolm Jenkins, who Slate notes previously stated in media that Kaepernick was invited to the next meeting. Slate published a third email from Meiselas to Jenkins, requesting that the player "correct the record" about Kaepernick’s invite and upcoming meeting details: 

Yesterday, and today, several major media outlets reported that Mr. Kaepernick was invited to attend the next meeting. This is false. In fact, I reached out to both the NFL and the NFLPA and each stated they were not, and are not, responsible for the invitations. … It remains inconceivable that actual progress can or will be made at these player meetings if discussions regarding ideas and platforms, which Mr. Kaepernick has led and created, are discussed and negotiated without Mr. Kaepernick being present. Numerous players have expressed these sentiments.

Jenkins declined to speak about the invitation conflicts with a USA Today/The Associated Press reporter yesterday. Instead, he revealed that today’s planned meeting in the Eagles’ hometown was cancelled, citing schedule constraints. Jenkins added that he hopes league executives who want the protests to end will dedicate an outside platform for players to discuss social justice issues. 

"We don’t really enjoy doing this," Jenkins said. "We’d love to have a different platform and we think that’s something we could work collaboratively with the NFL to create, to actually draw awareness to the issues we’re doing, to use the NFL as a vehicle to make real change."