Nevius: What's the end game for NFL protests during national anthem?

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OK, NFL protesters, you’ve got our attention. Now what?

Declining to stand for the national anthem has turned out to be the pro football controversy with legs — or knees. Goosed by red-meat bombast from President Donald Trump and bonehead comments by some team owners, it has become the national subtext of the 2017 season.

Which is usually the hard part for any movement — getting people to listen. Now, what do you want to say?

The problem is the players haven’t come together on goals and objectives. What does a win look like?

Is it, for instance, a demand to form a permanent commission of players, owners and league officials to evaluate social causes?

Is it a series of televised public service spots during NFL games, where players can state their case?

(If it is, players should insist they not to be sugar-coated. Boilerplate declarations of respect for law enforcement can be included. But they should also say that it is impossible to see videos of police officers shooting unarmed black men and not be horrified and concerned.)

Lacking a definite end game, the movement has been hijacked by opportunists who have turned the well-intentioned protest into a political — yep, I’m gonna say it — football. Candidates are campaigning on demands that the players stop disrespecting military veterans, which was never part of the agenda.

To be fair, the players are keenly aware of this. I’ve talked to 49ers safety Eric Reid a couple of times in the past few weeks and I have two takeaways:

First, if there’s a better spokesperson for the cause, I have yet to hear him. Reid is thoughtful, well-informed and impressive.

Second, he’s frustrated. He feels the players have ideas for specific steps. But the league is dawdling.

Reid said NFL vice president and former player Troy Vincent asked for dates when they could meet. Reid responded promptly. Since then, at least when I last spoke to him … crickets.

Reid didn’t say this, but I will. It looks suspiciously like the league is trying to slow-walk this to the end of the season and hope it all goes away.

That doesn’t seem likely. The issue has become so of-the-moment that former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started this, was named “Citizen of the Year” by GQ magazine. Which has to qualify as one of the weirdest career arcs ever.

It wasn’t long ago Kaepernick was giving terse, one-word locker room interviews. Now he’s leading a national movement.

But Kaepernick is indicative of the protest’s haziness. As a symbol he’s invisible. As a spokesman, except for Tweets, he’s mute. He wouldn’t even consent to an interview for the GQ award.

Also, some of his decisions, like suing the league for collusion, seem counterproductive. If Kaepernick’s goal is to take a stand against what he sees as oppression by the league, fine. The lawsuit creates media buzz and sticks it to the NFL.

But his attorney, Mark Geragos, seems to think it was a savvy career move. When the suit was filed, Geragos predicted a team would sign him by Nov. 11.

“I just thought it was a no-brainer that somebody would do the right thing and sign him,” Geragos said.

Really? You’re a prospective job applicant and during the interview you mention that you are suing the company? And you think that increases your employment opportunities? More like burning a bridge.

But, you say, Kaepernick has the NFL dead to rights. The fact that no team has signed him proves collusion, right?

Not so fast. As Sports Illustrated legal analyst Michael McCann has written, collusion may not mean what many think.

You may have heard that the Kaepernick legal team is demanding emails and phone texts from some NFL owners. So if in that correspondence an owner admits that he isn’t signing Kaepernick because of the protest, that would be collusion, right?

Nope, collusion is between two or more parties. So it would have to be proved that at least two teams got together, discussed it and agreed not to employ him.

OK, but what if it can be shown that clearly inferior quarterbacks are being signed while Kaepernick isn’t? Definitely collusion, right?

Nope. Teams are allowed to set their own rosters. If they don’t think Kaepernick is talented enough or even if they just think he’d be a distraction, they can skip him. No law says teams have to employ players they don’t want.

Now, is it possible that an email chain exists between Dallas crazy uncle Jerry Jones and another owner where they both say, “We have to get everyone together and agree not sign this guy?”

Absolutely. Especially given the suspicions that Jones convinced Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter to blame a decline in his pizza chain business on the anthem protests. (Last week Schnatter walked back the accusation, apologizing and saying “We didn’t mean to be divisive.”)

Honestly, some of these owners are as dumb as a box of rocks. It is entirely possible that some of them got together and intentionally blackballed Kaepernick. If so, that’s collusion.

But collusion isn’t as simple as it seems.

Neither is this protest. The players need to decide what they want, demand it and get the win. Otherwise they are just running out the clock.

Contact C.W. Nevius at Twitter: @cwnevius

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