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.