Free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick filed a grievance against the NFL, accusing the 32 owners of collusion, his legal team announced on Sunday.
Kaepernick has remained unemployed through the first six weeks of the NFL season, even when injuries to other quarterbacks created job openings. He retained attorney Mark Geragos to represent him.
"We can confirm that this morning we filed a grievance under the CBA on behalf of Colin Kaepernick," Geragos said in a statement, in reference to the collective bargaining agreement. "This was done only after pursuing every possible avenue with all NFL teams and their executives.
"If the NFL (as well as all professional sports leagues) is to remain a meritocracy, then principled and peaceful political protests -- 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. Protecting all athletes from such collusive conduct is what compelled Mr. Kaepernick to file his grievance.
"Colin Kaepernick's goal has always been, and remains, to simply be treated fairly by the league he performed at the highest level for and to return to the football playing field."
The 29-year-old Kaepernick said his agent reached out to all 32 teams to make sure they were aware of his interest in playing this season. He opted out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers in the offseason.
Kaepernick has been a controversial figure since he first sat and then knelt during the national anthem before games with the 49ers in the 2016 season. The move was the beginning of what turned into league-wide protests earlier this season after President Donald Trump made critical comments of players who don't stand for the national anthem.
Kaepernick and his legal team are claiming the owners violated terms of the collective bargaining agreement, specifically a clause that prohibits teams from acting together in regards to a player's employments status.
"No Club, its employees or agents shall enter into any agreement, express or implied, with the NFL or any other Club, its employees or agents to restrict or limit individual Club decision-making," the CBA states, adding that the clause applies to "whether to negotiate or not to negotiate with any player" and "whether to offer or not to offer a Player Contract to any player."
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has stated on multiple occasions this season that Kaepernick is not being blackballed.
The Players Association said it will back Kaepernick in his fight against the NFL and is in the process of scheduling a conference call with his advisors for early this week.
"Our union has a duty to assist Mr. Kaepernick as we do all players and we will support him," the NFLPA said in a statement. "The NFLPA has been in regular contact with Mr. Kaepernick's representatives for the past year about his options and our union agreed to follow the direction of his advisors throughout that time."
Among the teams who lost a starting quarterback this season were the Miami Dolphins. In that instance, Miami lured Jay Cutler out of retirement to be its signal-caller, citing a relationship Dolphins head coach Adam Gase and Cutler developed when both were with the Chicago Bears.
Kaepernick passed for 2,241 yards with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions while fumbling a career-worst seven times with the 49ers last season. He also ran for 468 yards and two touchdowns.
In six NFL seasons, Kaepernick has passed for 12,271 yards with 72 touchdowns and 30 interceptions, adding another 2,300 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground.
Kaepernick, who guided the 49ers to the Super Bowl following the 2012 season, has indicated he would stand for the national anthem this season.