Colin Kaepernick's collusion case against the NFL can proceed, an arbitrator has ruled, setting the stage for attorneys for the former NFL quarterback to question league owners, coaches and officials.
Mark Geragos, Kaepernick's attorney, tweeted a letter Thursday from Stephen Burbank, an arbitrator appointed by the league and the NFL Players Association, revealing the decision to deny on Tuesday an NFL motion to dismiss Kaepernick's complaint.
The decision is a major blow to the NFL, which lost its bid to have the case thrown out and instead revealed the basic points of their case just as Kaepernick's side did to justify extending the fight.
Kaepernick, who began a kneeling protest during pre-game playings of the US national anthem that eventually aroused the ire of US President Donald Trump, has been unable to secure a contract with an NFL club since becoming a free agent in March 2017.
Kaepernick's complaint alleges team owners and the NFL colluded in violation of the league's collective bargaining agreement with the union to keep him out of the NFL.
Burbank found Kaepernick's attorneys had produced enough evidence to conduct a hearing on the matter after months of depositions and document analysis.
Kaepernick spent six seasons in the NFL for the San Francisco 49ers, guiding them to the 2013 Super Bowl where they lost to Baltimore, but opted out of his contract in hopes of a better deal for the 2017 season only to find no takers.
In August 2016, Kaepernick began kneeling during the pre-game playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" in a bid to raise awareness of police brutality, social injustice and racial inequality. Several police shootings of unarmed African-Americans heightened tensions over the issues he championed.
Players around the league began following Kaepernick's lead but the protest movement was fading until last September, when Trump attacked the NFL for not punishing players who kneeled, calling any player doing so a "son of a bitch" who should be fired.
Trump's rhetoric helped flame the issue into a divise campaign that led the league to toughen its policy to force players to stand or stay in the locker room, a move the union has objected to and remains in discussions to solve even as the new NFL season begins in only one week.
Kaepernick, meanwhile, has not been invited to work out for an NFL club much less been offered a contract. He turns 31 in November.
Attorneys for Kaepernick contend he was able to contribute to NFL clubs last year and this season, even in a reserve role, but was shunned for his decision to exercise his freedom of expression.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and several club owners are among those who have reportedly been questioned in private sessions by lawyers for Kaepernick.