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SANTA CLARA — 49ers CEO Jed York spoke with local reporters Thursday afternoon for the first time since returning from the NFL owners meeting Tuesday in New York City.

At the meeting, the owners decided not to ban players from kneeling during the national anthem. Players will be allowed to continue the protest former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started last season. Kaepernick remains unemployed and is suing the NFL for collusion, claiming the league has blackballed him.

A reporter asked York on Thursday if he thinks the league has treated Kaepernick unfairly.

“It’s very difficult for me to say that, with Colin being here for a long period of time,” York said. “Obviously, there’s the lawsuit that’s going on, so it’s hard for me to get into any details or really share my opinion. But, I don’t believe that there’s base to that claim that he’s being blackballed.”

York went on to explain the owners’ decision not to ban social-justice protests during the national anthem.

“Our players are saying we want our message to be heard clearly and loudly and that’s what we’re trying to figure out. 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 from 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 our 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.”

Bad break: The 49ers placed third-year defensive end Arik Armstead on the Injured Reserve list Monday with a broken left hand. He suffered the injury Sunday against the Redskins, and played through it for a quarter and a half, according to defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

“He’s a tough son of a b,” Saleh said. “He is. He’s tough. I will never question that man’s toughness. If he could’ve played with a club, he would’ve played with a club. If he could play with one hand, he’ll play with one hand. It’s just unfortunate, the injury, the location of where it was. But, he did play a quarter and a half with it and he actually dominated the man in front of him. It’s just an unlucky break on his part.”

As Saleh alluded to, the placement of Armstead’s fracture prevents him from wrapping his hand in a cast and playing with a club, as he did his freshman year at the University of Oregon when he injured his right hand.

“He’s been dealing with stuff like that since we were in college,” said defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, who played with Armstead at Oregon. “He will play through anything if the team allows him to. He really wants to be out there with us. He really wishes he could cast it up and still play, but since he has to get surgery, it’s a whole different deal.”

Position change: The 49ers feel rookie first-round pick Solomon Thomas has improved the past two weeks since he became the fulltime “Leo” defensive end.

“With us having so many injuries on the defensive line and having to move people around,” Robert Saleh said on Thursday, “there’s a learning curve for (Thomas) to go from one position to the next.

“But, for him to settle into a position and do the same thing two weeks in a row is a perfect example of where you see a guy like Solomon, who you give him something to do and he’s going to get better because of the way he works and the way he approaches the game.

“The effort was the same. The intensity was the same. But his ability to react quicker was probably a little bit better just because he was comfortable with what he was being asked to do for the second week in a row.”

Buckner, who plays next to Thomas on the 49ers’ defensive line, said he is particularly impressed with the strides Thomas has made recently.

“The position change from big end to Leo definitely made a change for him, and big difference, and you just saw,” he said.

“The game is slowing a little bit down for him, being able to focus on one position. Also, he’s being able to use his hands more, which we’ve been trying to get him to do since the beginning. He’s finally not thinking too much when he’s out there and really just playing.”

Thomas agreed with Buckner’s assessment.

“Definitely, my hand work has been inconsistent throughout the season,” he said. “I’m just trying to get it down and be consistent with it, have very violent hands, make sure they’re inside and just play how the coaches teach us.”

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