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Colin Kaepernick, mediation and the stalled player-owner meetings

League rejects proposal to have third party added to process

It appears that the potential involvement of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick could be among the impediments to talks resuming between NFL owners and players over the divisive issue of protests during the national anthem.

In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, the league dismissed a proposal by San Francisco safety Eric Reid, the first player to kneel alongside Kaepernick during the 2016 season in an effort to shine a light on racial injustice, to have the sides engage in a formal mediation session as early as next week. The NFL has no interest in having a third party added to the process, which after an encouraging opening, has clearly stalled.

“The real strength of the dialogue going on is that it is direct,” Joe Lockhart, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications and public affairs, said on the call. No more meetings have been scheduled, Lockhart said.

Although some players privately expressed optimism about Reid’s request – hopeful that a third party could help facilitate progress on issues critically important to African-American communities that have fueled a leaguewide movement for more than a year – owners and high-ranking league officials clearly prefer a more informal setting. Then there’s the Kaepernick issue.

Many civil rights leaders and players believe Kaepernick has been blackballed because he ignited demonstrations during the anthem by first sitting and then kneeling last season. Since way back in the offseason, the still-unemployed passer has been passed over by far less-accomplished signal-callers.

Following the confusion about whether Kaepernick was truly welcome at the first meeting between the sides in New York in October, Reid, who is determined to help his friend get back in the game, moved to make sure Kaepernick would have a place at the negotiating table. Because of everything Kaepernick has sacrificed, Reid believes, he should be included in trying to find a path forward with owners.

According to Reid, Troy Vincent, the league’s executive vice president of football operations, recently reached out to him, wanting to jump-start the stagnant process.

“Troy Vincent approached me to have a meeting,” Reid said on the phone late Tuesday night. “I responded to him that I would like other players to be involved, and for Colin to be involved. For some reason, that wasn’t good for him. And they don’t schedule a meeting because of it?”

Meanwhile, regardless of whether Kaepernick ever sits across the table from owners with other players, he figures to get a lot of face time with them soon.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, several owners and league executives could be deposed later this month in Kaepernick’s grievance against the league filed in October. Attorney Mark Geragos is representing Kaepernick, who alleges that owners have conspired to keep him out of the league, which, if proven, would be a violation of the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement.

Eager to support Reid and other players who are leaders in the movement, Kaepernick agreed to participate in future meetings, “but he wanted an outside mediator so it would be confidential, and I believe Eric said the same thing, so it wouldn’t be used as an NFL publicity stunt,” Geragos said on the phone Tuesday evening. “But [by not agreeing to the mediator], that’s exactly what [the NFL] is doing. Having Colin there would be nothing but a publicity stunt.”

While owners and players try to figure out their next steps, Kaepernick’s path is clear, Geragos said.

“I was encouraging of” Colin joining with the players in a meeting, Geragos said. “But, look, we’re in a legal situation. I told him if he wanted to do it, and he did want to do it, have a mediator present. Plus, guess what?

“A mediator may actually help bridge the gap and solve the problem. But I don’t think anybody [with the league] really wants to solve the problems. I’m not disappointed, because it’s exactly what I expected. … It’s sad.”

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at The Undefeated. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.