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Colin Kaepernick Settled Legal Battle With NFL. What Comes Next?


Colin Kaepernick's legal battle with the NFL is over. The former 49ers quarterback, whose decision to take a knee during the national anthem in 2016 to draw attention to police misconduct sparked protests throughout sports as well as a fierce backlash, has signed a confidential agreement with the NFL. The agreement, which included former teammate Eric Reid, settles claims that team owners conspired to blacklist them for their activism. But the debate continues about the effectiveness of such a protest and the way forward.

To talk more about this, we've called professor Harry Edwards, professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, who's been one of the country's most influential thought leaders on the role of athletes in society. We called him at home in Fremont, Calif. Professor Edwards, thanks so much for talking with us.

HARRY EDWARDS: Thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: I know that you've advised Colin Kaepernick at various points throughout the way, as well as you've advised a number of other athletes who have wanted to take stands on issues of concern. I know we don't know the terms of the deal or, at least, we don't know. But what do you think of his decision to settle?

EDWARDS: Well, I think it's important that this be gotten off the road. One, the movement itself is in decline. These types of movements have a life of about six years. And if you go from 2012, when the Miami Heat and D Wade and LeBron first put on hoodies, up until 2018, you can see that pattern persist.

So I think, one, the movement itself is in steep decline. Two, I think that it's in the interest of all involved that this be resolved so that, one, the league can go back, do an assessment of how this situation was managed in preparation for the inevitability of other issues coming over the stadium wall in a league that, by the middle of this next decade, would be somewhere between 82 and 85 percent black. And, secondly, I think that Colin has made a heck of a contribution, and I think that he should be able to exercise the full range of his options.

MARTIN: It's interesting that you seem, in a way, to have sort of foreshadowed this because you wrote a piece last May, arguing that athlete activists should move beyond protests. Why do you say that?

EDWARDS: These types of movements are on the clock. The Black Power movement lasted for six years, from 1966 to approximately 1972. And if you're going to move beyond drama to actual substantive achievement, you have to begin early on to come up with plans, to come up with perspectives that will allow you to move from protest to policies and programs and progress. If that doesn't happen, then you get into a cycle of just protesting. And that most certainly is not conducive to substantive change.

MARTIN: You've, first of all, been a consultant to the 49ers. You - I know that you know Kaepernick. And I wondered if you anticipated and if he was prepared for just how much backlash that he got and other players who wanted to support him. I mean, the - you know, some of the fans, you know, screaming at people, you know, during the games, the people burning people's jerseys, of course, not even to mention, you know, now-President Trump, then-candidate Trump's very sort of heated conversation about this and very heated attacks on the players about this. I wonder - did you see all that coming? And did he see all that coming?

EDWARDS: Well, we talked about issues that were probably inevitable. It's called a protest rather than a picnic because it tends to upset people. So I'm quite certain that he was prepared for that. He knew what he was getting into in that regard. Nobody could have anticipated Trump. But we talked about Muhammad Ali. We talked about Smith and Carlos. We talked about people like Bill Russell, who, at one time, was called Felton X in the press because he criticized some of the racial practices of cities that the Boston Celtics played in. So he was very much aware of that.

Now, it's one thing to be aware of it. And then, it's another thing to actually live through it. It's a very difficult thing to deal with because it involves not just you but everybody you're associated with. And they're going through this at the same time. So, at the end of the day, he was aware of all of that. We discussed it, and he determined that it was an important enough issue for him to move forward. And I think that history will absolve him.

MARTIN: You know, the NFL and the Players Coalition negotiated a deal worth nearly $90 million This is money which is supposed to be devoted toward addressing the issues that Colin Kaepernick and others were trying to address. You've said that the devil isn't in the details, it's in the delivery. What do you think about the - I mean, are there plans for this money so far? Do you - what do you know about what they're intending to do with it? And do you think it's going to be meaningful?

EDWARDS: Ultimately, the deliverables take place on several levels. One, what do they materially produce and deliver in terms of impacting the issues and problems and challenges that the Players Coalition is concerned about? And, secondly, is there a conversation continuing over how best to manage the circumstances that come over the stadium wall that do not emerge within the context of the game or the operations of the game but that come over the stadium wall, owing to the demographics of the locker room? And I think that that's as an - as important a deliverable as the $90 million, which, to a large, degree is something that has yet to materialize in total.

MARTIN: That is professor Harry Edwards, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. And he was kind of to join us from his home in Fremont, Calif. Professor Edwards, thanks so much for talking to us.

EDWARDS: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.