(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump is being put on the spot to explain his anti-NFL rhetoric by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in his complaint that team owners have blacklisted him for refusing to stand for the national anthem.
Kaepernick 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 in a case in private arbitration. 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 U.S.
Should the White House refuse a voluntary deposition, attorneys for the players plan to subpoena the president and vice president, 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 bitch 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.
“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.
Attorneys 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.
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