NFL (National Football League)

Donald Trump and Mike Pence may have to testify in Colin Kaepernick’s NFL free speech case

Kaepernick may attempt to force Trump and Pence to testify after starting a court case accusing the president of discouraging the NFL from hiring players who wanted to protest police brutality

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 June, 2018, 2:47am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 June, 2018, 2:47am

After months of mocking and dismissing American football players who kneel for the national anthem before games to protest police brutality, US President Donald Trump may be called up in court to explain his rhetoric.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the kneeling protest, and his ex-teammate Eric Reid are expected to ask Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence to voluntarily testify about their influence over the National Football League (NFL) in a case in private arbitration.

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Kaepernick claims comments made by Trump and Pence have discouraged the NFL and individual team owners from hiring the players over the expression of their views on police brutality in the US.

If they turn down a voluntary deposition, the players’ lawyers plan to subpoena the politicians, according to a person close to the grievance.

If they fail in private arbitration, the players will ask a federal judge to intervene, said the person, who declined to be identified because the information is confidential.

At the start of last season, Trump exhorted NFL owners to fire players who take a knee during the national anthem. “Get that son of a b***h off the field right now, out. He’s fired,” he said in September at a campaign rally in Huntsville, Alabama.

In an October meeting the NFL convened with players, owners and executives at its New York headquarters, multiple owners discussed the dangers of a public feud with the president, according to audio of the meeting that was secretly recorded and provided to The New York Times.

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“The problem we have is, we have a president who will use that as fodder to do his mission that I don’t feel is in the best interests of America,” said New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a friend and supporter of Trump’s. “It’s divisive and it’s horrible.”

Ultimately the owners and the NFL changed their policy in May to fine teams whose players decline to stand during the anthem, while giving them the option to remain in the locker room instead of protesting on the field.

Trump lashed out on Twitter and disinvited the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles from their scheduled visit to the White House over their position on the anthem. Some of the team’s star players had previously said they wouldn’t attend the annual celebration with the president.

Pence called the NFL’s new anthem rules “a stunning victory for President Trump”. The vice-president had walked out of an Indianapolis Colts game last year after players on the field knelt in silent protest during the anthem in what may have been a pre-planned political stunt.

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Lawyers for Kaepernick and Reid are prepared to argue that Trump and Pence’s rhetoric in their official capacities have shaped the league’s position on the matter, while neither player has a contract to play in the 2018-2019 NFL season.

The players’ legal team will begin the process by reaching out to the White House for the deposition in the next week, according to the person.