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49ers CEO doesn't believe Kaepernick is being blackballed

(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York said he doesn't believe there's merit to Colin Kaepernick's claim that NFL owners collectively conspired to keep him from playing in the league, as his recent grievance alleges.

"It's hard for me to get into any details or really share my opinion. But I don't believe there's base to that claim that he's being blackballed," York said Thursday.

Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers last winter after it was made clear by new general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan that the quarterback would have been released. He was scheduled to make $14.9 million for 2017.

Kaepernick on Sunday filed a grievance against the league and its owners alleging he remains unsigned as a result of owners colluding against him after he kneeled during the national anthem before games last season.

One of Kaepernick's attorneys, Mark Geragos, issued a statement over Twitter that said, "If the NFL (as well as all professional sports leagues) is to remain a meritocracy, then principled and peaceful political protest - which the owners themselves made great theater imitating weeks ago - should not be punished and athletes should not be denied employment based on partisan political provocation by the executive branch of our government. Such a precedent threatens all patriotic Americans and harkens back to our darkest days as a nation."

York participated in meetings this week between the league, owners and players in New York to discuss the protests during the national anthem which Kaepernick pioneered. Kaepernick's former teammate Eric Reid, who was the first player to join the protest, was there and indicated progress was made in the discussion between owners and players.

"I think it went well. It was a start. (We) had a lot of good conversation and I think we're on the path to what Colin and I were looking for when we started protesting," Reid said. "So the NFL has agreed to commit to a long-term plan and use their platform to continue to raise awareness to the issues that affect our country and to help us feel like we don't need to protest. So we're in the right direction."

Reid and York said plans are fluid and nothing concrete has been established. The first step is creating a discussion.

"I think the biggest takeaway (from the meetings) is owners are listening to the players and what their needs are, what their concerns are personally, in their communities," York said. "And I think there's the beginning of a dialogue, the beginning of a better partnership of, `How can we do things better in the community to make our players and their families' communities a better place?'"

Kaepernick began the protest to raise awareness for social issues such as discrimination against minorities and policy brutality.

York said the goal of the ongoing discussion is to address the issues in a way that allows players to feel like protesting is no longer a necessity and the issues are getting addressed.

"That's what we're trying to figure out," he said. "How do we make sure that we encourage you to stand, but we're not requiring you to do anything. You're allowed to do anything that you want (under) the First Amendment. You can express yourself, but we want you to stand because you want to stand. We're not going to make you stand, and we want to make our country and communities a better place, not because you're forcing us to but because we're compelled to. And I think that's the important thing here."

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Updated October 19, 2017

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