Certain aspects of the effort to cure a lingering intersection of politics and football has become bogged down by a political football.
As a coalition of players hopes to meet with the league and selected owners in an effort to solve the anthem controversy once and for all, the NFL has declined to conduct the meeting with the involvement of a mediator.
“We don’t believe that there’s a need for a third-party mediator,” league spokesman Joe Lockhart said during a Tuesday morning media briefing. During that same conference call, however, Lockhart reiterated that quarterback Colin Kaepernick is invited to attend and participate in the next meeting aimed at discussing (and, presumably, resolving) the issue.
Kaepernick’s attorney in his collusion grievance, Mark Geragos, thereafter said that he responded immediately to the league that Kaepernick would be happy to attend. Geragos, however, prefers that a mediator be involved.
“Because of the grievance we asked that a mediator be present,” Geragos told ABC News, via ESPN.com. “A mediator also would ensure that the discussions were productive and confidential and not used as a PR stunt or prop by the league. Colin’s proposal was rejected.”
The league responded, with Lockhart saying this to Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports: “[Executive V.P. of football operations] Troy [Vincent] reached out to Colin directly — not to his lawyer — and said, ‘If you want to come in, come in.’ This isn’t about his lawyer. This isn’t about a mediator. The question of, ‘Has [Colin] been invited in?’ the answer is yes. This isn’t part of any grievance process. This is part of the overall discussion we’ve been having on some of these social issues.”
Because a grievance is pending between Kaepernick and the NFL, and because the players have made it clear that one of the issues they hope to discuss is Kaepernick’s ongoing unemployment, the grievance can’t simply be ignored. Anything Kaepernick or the league says during any meeting can, in theory, be used in the collusion case. It would make sense to have these communications occur in a process that has the layer of formality that the presence of a mediator would provide.
On a separate note, it’s also unwise for Kaepernick and Vincent (or any other league officials) to be communicating directly, given the pending grievance. Apart from the fact that ethical rules become implicated if the lawyers for either side know about and/or direct communications between parties to a pending proceeding, anything Kaepernick says to Vincent or Vincent says to Kaepernick can be used later (especially if either guy is recording the conversations, like Adrian Peterson did to Vincent three years ago).
The league may be reluctant to involve a mediator because the presence of a mediator represents a mutual interest to fully and finally settle the issue. The league possibly hopes that an ongoing willingness to talk about the issue, plus periodic efforts to actually do so, will result in the controversy remaining on the back burner, indefinitely.
A permanent solution to the issue would mean compromise, with the league actually giving the players something in order to persuade them to stand for the anthem. The league’s current approach could lead to the vast majority of the players choosing to continue to stand without the league making any concessions at all, and that seems to be what the league prefers — especially since the Commander-in-Chief seems to have moved on to more pressing matters, of both foreign and domestic origin.