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Who Fumbled Their Reputation More, Colin Kaepernick or the NFL?

Updated: Feb 20, 2019

The NFL has been under public scrutiny a lot lately for their handling of legal issues with their players. From Jameis Winston’s Uber driver incident to Kareem Hunt’s video of abuse, the NFL can’t seem to catch a PR break. One story and name which has continued to dominate the NFL headlines is Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick no longer is employed by an NFL team, yet his name remains around the league. Kaepernick’s name brings problems to the NFL and their public reputation.

In 2017, Kaepernick filed a lawsuit against the NFL citing collusion against him due to his choosing to kneel during the National Anthem in 2016. This past week after a multi-year saga, Kaepernick and the NFL settled the lawsuit out of court. The looming question is why there was an agreement to settle out of court? Each side had much to gain and just as much to lose by taking the story into the courtroom. The public perception of both sides was at risk. So who took the bigger lost by settling out of court?

Kaepernick is all about standing up for what you believe in and bringing justice to those in underrepresented communities. In fact, he signed a contract with Nike to help elevate his social justice platform. His collusion case was built on how the NFL teams excluded him due to his political beliefs and actions in 2016. Kaepernick should have wanted this lawsuit brought to court so he could prove the NFL was trying to suppress his political views, a violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and the first amendment. So why would Kaepernick agree to settle out of court?

The settlement Kaepernick agreed to could be viewed to many as Kaepernick backing down from his social justice stance. Was Kaepernick just in it for the money and wanted a new payday? Or did he have a more valid reason for not proceeding to the courtroom? Kaepernick no longer has a large, public platform to express his views, he isn’t on the field or in front of TV cameras like he was in 2016. By agreeing to settle out of court Kaepernick helped his public image grow more favorably. He didn’t lose to the NFL, he got them to back down which was key. The NFL is almost always ready to go into the court system and win. The most recent examples of this are the Tom Brady and Ezekiel Elliott cases. Both of these cases were taken to court and the NFL won, Brady and Elliott both served 4 game suspensions. The NFL would rather go to court and be proven right than settle with a player and watch their power dissolve slowly. By making the NFL settled out of court, Kaepernick defeated the NFL.

Kaepernick can still be viewed as a hero in this case because he didn’t exactly lose. His public image may take a small hit, but his work will continue. The media will continue to write about Kaepernick and his story and his causes will receive media attention. Kaepernick will go down in NFL history for standing up (or rather kneeling) for his beliefs and not backing down while on the field. The NFL will never be able to separate their image from Kaepernick as long as he remains at an age where he could be playing. At 31 years old, Kaepernick still remains a viable option for any quarterback-needy team. Now the with the collusion case over, his playing status could change at any time. Still, at this point, it doesn’t matter if Kaepernick plays another down in the NFL or not, he held the league accountable, at least in a monetary sense.

The NFL and Kaepernick signed confidentiality agreements meaning the public will never find out the details about the settlement. Settling out of legal court also kept this out of the court of public opinion for the NFL. The NFL’s reputation continues to be dragged through the mud with bad referee calls, players’ substance abuse, players’ personal conduct issues and the concussion discussion. The NFL did not want their brand reputation taking another lost against Kaepernick. Keeping this suit out of court helped the NFL's reputation.

Majority of NFL players are African-American, however, the majority of the team owners are white. If Kaepernick could prove collusion, then the NFL and team owners would have a racial issue on their hands. The NFL already received backlash about racial issues when late Houston Texans’ owner, Bob McNair made a comment about “inmates running the prison” in regards to the protesting happening around the league. McNair apologized shortly after but it didn’t stop his players from considering walking off the field and the public tearing him apart. Public opinion about McNair and the NFL was not favorable after these comments. The NFL wanted to avoid any connection to racial injustice in the league, therefore, they wanted this case settled out of both legal court and the court of public opinion. The NFL must have thought Kaepernick had at least some damaging evidence to prove racial injustice, so they wanted to suppress the information to avoid issues with the public.

While settling this case kept the NFL from taking a larger loss in the public’s eyes, the NFL still suffers greatly from Kaepernick’s association to the league. The NFL will never admit it but lost when they agreed to settle. The NFL is the bad guy in this story, they treated Kaepernick badly and they know it. The problem is that the league and the owners can’t fix how they treat Kaepernick and his right to protest. They were forced to find a solution and attempt to remove Kaepernick's name from the NFL headlines. The agreement to settle was an attempt at a solution and also allowed for minimal hits to the NFL already poor reputation.

In the end, Kaepernick received the better end of the deal when he agreed to settle with the NFL. His public image remains very much in tacked and it took minimal hits, he won in the eyes of most people. Kaepernick can continue to fight for social justice and will forever be linked to the NFL. He took a stand like other African-American athletes before him, and he will be remembered for his protest. The NFL, on the other hand, continues to take great losses to their reputation. By settling out of court, the NFL admitted to more than saying they were wrong. They are concealing information from the public, and I doubt the public will leave this issue alone. While the legal drama is over, the public perception issues will continue for the NFL. The NFL needs to find a way to manage the situation better or else their brand reputation will continue to get worse.

This blog post was written by Chelsea Seidel, President.

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