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NAACP interim president: ‘We want to make sure there’s fairness’

Civil rights group requests a sit-down with NFL to discuss Colin Kaepernick’s unemployment

NEW YORK — The NFL can count the NAACP among the civil rights groups eager to formally meet with it as soon as possible to discuss the Colin Kaepernick situation.

A day after the unemployed activist-quarterback received a strong show of support at a rally on his behalf at NFL headquarters, NAACP interim president and CEO Derrick Johnson, in an interview Thursday with The Undefeated, said it’s time for the league to sit down with groups concerned that Kaepernick is still without a job with the regular season kicking off in only two weeks. Johnson expressed the widespread belief among civil rights activists that Kaepernick has been shut out from the game because he chose not to stand, first sitting and then kneeling, during the national anthem last season while he was a member of the San Francisco 49ers.

Kaepernick’s peaceful and impactful political protest drew attention to the oppression of black people and people of color in the United States and stirred a wave of social activism among professional athletes unseen since the 1960s. Commissioner Roger Goodell refutes the claim that the NFL is punishing Kaepernick for his anthem protest and is determined to end his career, but Johnson still has questions. He hopes to get answers in a meeting with the people who run professional sports’ most successful and powerful league.

“What we want to see happen here is what everyone [who supports Kaepernick] wants to see: that there’s fairness,” Johnson said. “We want to make sure there’s fairness to ensure that Kaepernick, or no player, is ever prevented from having a voice to express their opinions, particularly around social justice issues.

“And we also want to make sure that the NFL as a whole does not use collusion to coerce players to do stuff that’s not aboveboard. We’d hate to see an entity like the NFL use their powers to collude and suffocate free speech.”

Some African-American players first advanced the theory that Kaepernick was being punished for his political stance, and that NFL owners would essentially move to keep other players in line by ending Kaepernick’s career. Several speakers at Wednesday’s United We Stand Rally for Colin Kaepernick hammered those points in railing against the NFL for, in their opinion, preventing Kaepernick from working despite the fact he violated no laws with his protest that also complied with league rules.

Organizers of the well-attended event on the doorstep of the league offices were disappointed that the NFL declined to meet with them before the rally. Through a spokesman, the NFL said it eventually plans to schedule a group meeting with the organizations pressing to meet with it.

The widespread belief among activists that the league is colluding to sideline Kaepernick “is why we want to meet,” Johnson said. “We don’t want to make any clear assumptions, but from all of the public information, his not being picked up by any team appears to be inconsistent with his performance compared to other players.”

In his career, Kaepernick has a 64.9 total QBR, has completed 59.8 percent of his passes and has a touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio of 2.4 (72 touchdowns, only 30 interceptions). Of the 64 quarterbacks who are currently first- and second-stringers on the league’s 32 teams, Kaepernick’s statistics are better than 30 of them in all three categories, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

And Kaepernick has both statistical success and experience, having made 58 career starts, including two in NFC championship games and one in a Super Bowl. The numbers just don’t add up, Johnson said.

“I just hope cooler heads prevail, everyone is able to sit down and there’s clear understanding that there is an opportunity for Colin, like any player in this scenario, to have the ability to speak out on social justice issues without any fear of retaliation,” Johnson said. “Whether a meeting took place yesterday or whether it takes place next week, we just want a positive outcome to the situation.”

Johnson clarified the NAACP’s position on whether the group has called for a boycott of the NFL, saying that it has not. It was reported that the NAACP called for a boycott because one member apparently misspoke, Johnson said.

“We take issues of boycott very seriously,” Johnson said. “So, no, we have not issued an official boycott.”

If the NAACP is not satisfied with the NFL’s response to Kaepernick’s situation, however, everything would be on the table.

“We’ll consider any and all options if there are no clear answers as to why we’ve gotten this current outcome,” Johnson said. “The only thing we have to go by is publicly available information. There could be factors that we’re not aware of. We understand that. But from all appearances, again, what has happened to him is inconsistent with his performance compared to other players. That’s a fact.”

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