RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Colin Kaepernick used to be the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. He was also the first NFL player to kneel during the national anthem, sparking a nationwide protest about police brutality. When his contract with the 49ers ended in 2017, Kaepernick was up for grabs as a free agent, although no team wanted to sign him. Kaepernick alleges the NFL owners have colluded to keep him off their teams. Now an arbitrator has ruled that Kaepernick's grievance against the NFL can go forward. Sports commentator Kevin Blackistone is with us now to talk about this. Hey, Kevin.
KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Hey. How you doing, Rachel?
MARTIN: Doing well. So this, we should say, independent arbitrator says there is enough information for the case to move to a full hearing.
MARTIN: What's the evidence?
BLACKISTONE: Well, we don't know exactly what the evidence is. But over the last few months, a few things have come forth, one of which we all know all too well, and those are the comments of President Trump, who has urged NFL owners to take punitive measures against players who would protest with the national anthem as a backdrop. And some of those owners apparently have admitted that they have followed the president's orders, one of which is Stephen Ross, who's the owner of the Miami Dolphins, who apparently admitted to having changed his mind on the Colin Kaepernick issue after Donald Trump came out and said that players should be punished. So that's one piece of evidence that we believe the arbitrator has acted upon.
MARTIN: So the implication being that if you hire Colin Kaepernick as your quarterback, he's still going to keep protesting, so then you would be standing in contrast to what the president has "suggested," quote, unquote, that NFL owners do.
BLACKISTONE: Exactly. Exactly. And even if all the owners didn't act because of what Donald Trump said, we do know that there's at least one and maybe some others, and it's a pretty low bar of proof that one has to prove in a case like this before an arbitrator, according to lawyer and judge friends of mine, and so that's enough.
MARTIN: But what does Kaepernick get out of this? Let's say he wins.
BLACKISTONE: Whoa, if he wins, he could get three times the amount of money he could've made during the time in which he was not allowed to play in this league.
MARTIN: But does that mean - if he wins or loses, does it mean Kaepernick isn't going to play football anymore?
BLACKISTONE: It doesn't necessarily mean that. Some friends of mine seem to think that the last thing the NFL, which has been under a cloud of bad news for quite some time...
BLACKISTONE: ...Now, wants going into this football season, which will be the third football season under which the Kaepernick issue has been over its head...
BLACKISTONE: ...Would want to go into court and have to hand over documents or any sort of evidence about anything that's been going on with this case, so...
MARTIN: They wouldn't want to see that happen.
BLACKISTONE: They may want to settle.
MARTIN: OK. Kevin Blackistone with ESPN's "Around The Horn." Thanks so much, Kevin, appreciate it.
BLACKISTONE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.