Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback and activist Colin Kaepernick put his supporters’ most consistent accusation—that National Football League (NFL) leaders conspired to keep him off team rosters in retaliation for his kneeling protests against racist policing—in a new official complaint.

ESPN reports that Kaepernick filed a grievance with the league and its 32 team owners yesterday (October 15), which his lawyer Mark Geragos confirmed in the following statement:


Per Geragos’ statement, the complaint says that executives violated parts of the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, which prohibits league restriction on a team’s ability to work with individual players, by colluding to lock Kaepernick out of a job. The filing specifically alleges that the league did this in response to Kaepernick’s racial justice activism, which most prominently involved kneeling during pre-game national anthems throughout the 2016-2017 season. From the complaint:

During the 2017 NFL season and continuing to the present, the NFL, by and through all NFL team owners, NFL employees, and team employees, have entered into and enforced, implied and/or express agreements to specifically deprive claimant Colin Kaepernick from employment in the NFL, as well as from practicing with and/or trying out for NFL teams for which Mr. Kaepernick is eminently qualified. Respondents NFL and NFL team owners have colluded to deprive Mr. Kaepernick of employment rights in retaliation for Mr. Kaepernick’s leadership and advocacy for equality and social justice and his bringing awareness to peculiar institutions still undermining racial equality in the United States. Further, respondents have retaliated against Mr. Kaepernick in response to coercion and calculated coordination from the executive branch of the United States government.

The “coercion and calculated coordination” addressed in the passage above references President Donald Trump and his administration’s demands to fire protesting players. The complaint references these comments and rejects team owners’ solidarity actions as a “public relations stunt”: 

On or around September 22, 2017, during a campaign rally speech in Alabama, President Donald Trump referred to NFL players that knelt during the national anthem, as sons of b****es (implying that Mr. Kaepernick was a “son of a b****”) and demanded that NFL teams fire these players. Since then, President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have posted tweets and engaged in various public relations stunts designed to retaliate against Mr. Kaepernick and other players that have joined in Kaepernick’s peaceful protest. Following Trump’s September 22, 2017, campaign rally, NFL owners and affiliates feigned concern for players by either kneeling alongside them or joining them in locking arms, and were even featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated Magazine doing the same. However, such conduct by NFL owners proved to be a public relations stunt, designed to appear empathetic to players; in reality, NFL owners threatened players with fines and suspension if they refused to stand for the national anthem in the following weeks.

The filing demands that the league disclose communications between league owners, the Trump administration and other involved parties related to their treatment of Kaepernick. It also calls for the league to address these complaints, not punish players who protest and schedule an arbitration hearing. Kaepernick does not seek any damages or restorative treatment outside of the non-retaliatory negotiations that Geragos says is guaranteed by the collective bargaining agreement.

ESPN adds that the NFL Players Association, the union representing current players, will not directly handle Kaepernick’s complaint, but supports it. “Our union has a duty to assist Mr. Kaepernick as we do all players and we will support him,” the union told The Washington Post. Association officials also told The Post that they spoke to Kaepernick before the filing and plan to discuss it with him later this week. League executives are expected to meet with commissioner Roger Goodell this week as well. Goodell has not officially responded to Kaepernick’s complaint as of press time.

Kaepernick remains a free agent after opting not to renew his contract with the 49ers at the end of last season. A recent analysis by The Washington Post concludes that Kaepernick averaged more adjusted yards per passing attempt—a mean calculation of how much ground a quarterback gains one each attempted pass—than four current starting NFL quarterbacks. This figure stands opposed to many detractors’ claims that Kaepernick does not perform well enough to justify his employment.

Several NFL executives anonymously told Bleacher Report last year that Kaepernick’s activism would cost him his career. “He has no respect for our country,” one executive opined. “F**k that guy.”

As he noted on Twitter, Kaepernick filed the grievance 51 years to the day that Bobby Seale and Huey Newton founded the Black Panther Party