Trump may have violated federal law by urging NFL owners not to sign Kaepernick

"Tell everybody, you can't win this one. This one lifts me."

CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 18: Eric Reid #35 and Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers kneel on the sideline, during the anthem, prior to the game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on September 18, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Panthers defeated the 49ers 46-27. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 18: Eric Reid #35 and Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers kneel on the sideline, during the anthem, prior to the game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on September 18, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Panthers defeated the 49ers 46-27. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)

Last month, the NFL announced a new policy for its players during the national anthem: Players are permitted to stay in the locker room during the anthem, but if they go out onto the field during it, they must stand. If any of the players takes  a knee, the team will be fined.

Soon afterwards, a Wall Street Journal report confirmed what most have long suspected: That President Donald Trump’s public outrage about NFL players protesting police brutality and systemic racism during the national anthem at football games heavily influenced NFL owners to change the rule, and discouraged them from signing players who would protest.

Advertisement

It’s all terrible news for those in favor of free speech and peaceful protest, and for those against white nationalism and police brutality.

However, Mark Geragos, the lawyer representing Kaepernick in his collusion lawsuit against the NFL, sees the glass as being half full: He believes that both the anthem rule change and the information about Trump’s influence on NFL owners will go a long way towards helping him prove that the NFL and NFL owners colluded to keep Kaepernick out of the NFL, despite the fact that he had the talent to be a starting quarterback in the league.

Geragos also believes that Trump’s direct influence over NFL owners on this issue violates federal law. U.S. Code 227 says that members of Congress or the executive branch cannot “wrongfully influence a private entity’s employment decision … solely on the basis of partisan political affiliation.”

A few revelations from the last couple of weeks strongly support Geragos’ case here, and it’s important to remember that Geragos knows much more about the case than we do — he has taken the depositions of more than a dozen NFL owners, while the public only knows about the depositions that have leaked.

Advertisement

But the WSJ article itself make a pretty strong case against Trump. Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross reportedly said that his opinion about players protesting during the national anthem changed last fall, after Trump called any player who took a knee during the national anthem a “son of a bitch” and told his supporters that NFL owners should take any player who protests during the anthem off the field immediately and fire him.

“I was totally supportive of [the players] until Trump made his statement,” Ross said. “I thought he changed the dialogue.”

Of course, influencing the private hiring decisions of a company isn’t the only part of U.S. Code 887 that needs to be proved; it would also have to be shown that Trump did it for partisan political purposes.

That sounds trickier to prove, but in this case, that’s not necessarily true.

First of all, Trump’s comments were made at a political rally supporting an Alabama Republican candidate for US Senate — an expressly partisan environment. And according to the WSJ, Trump told Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in private conversations that the issue was a “winning” one for him.

Advertisement

“This is a very winning, strong issue for me,” Trump said on the phone to Jones, according to a sworn deposition given by Jones and reviewed by the WSJ. “Tell everybody, you can’t win this one. This one lifts me.”

If that’s not enough, after the NFL changed its anthem policy last month, media outlets such as CNN framed it as a “victory” for Trump. And, it just so happened that Vice President Mike Pence agreed.

Of course, the NFL’s official stance has always been that it’s up to each individual team who they sign and don’t sign, and that it’s just a coincidence that Kaepernick and his former teammate Eric Reid —  a talented, unsigned safety who protested during the 2016 and 2017 seasons and also has a collusion lawsuit against the NFL — are currently unemployed.

But Geragos has implied there’s plenty of evidence to contradict that claim. This week on CNN, he said more information on collusion between the NFL and Trump to keep Kaepernick out of the league is coming.

Advertisement

“I would stay tuned because this case is about to take a dramatic turn,” he said, adding that “somebody has decided they were going to dime out the NFL for what they were doing.”