“Teams are making the best decision for what they need, as a football team,” said Roger Goodell. (Seth Wenig/Associated Press)

Over the summer, as Colin Kaepernick’s inability to latch on with an NFL team was becoming increasingly glaring, the league’s commissioner, Roger Goodell, denied that the quarterback was being “blackballed.” Six months and one grievance filed by Kaepernick against the league later, Goodell repeated that denial, adding that the former 49ers player was “always welcome” to come to the NFL’s headquarter for a meeting.

Speaking on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” Monday, Goodell also danced around a question about efforts to end player protests during the national anthem. Kaepernick was the first NFL player to stage such pregame demonstrations last season, and the law firm which filed the grievance in October on his behalf claimed that team owners colluded to keep him out of the league as punishment for his “principled and peaceful political protest.”

Kaepernick’s attorneys also called into question the NFL’s status as a “meritocracy” if their client remained unemployed, echoing language used by Goodell in June when talking about the quarterback. “I think that’s what’s great about the NFL is that we’re a meritocracy, and you earn your opportunities and you get to keep your opportunities on the way you perform, ultimately,” he said at the time.

On Monday, Goodell was asked about claims made by NBA star LeBron James and others that Kaepernick is being “blackballed” by the league. “I don’t agree with that,” the commissioner replied. “Teams are making the best decision for what they need, as a football team.”

Asked if Kaepernick “should be playing,” Goodell said, “Each and every club’s got to make those decisions. . . . They make those decisions based on a lot of factors that are best for their football team. And when they do that, that’s what’s in the best interest.”

Earlier last month, a lawyer for Kaepernick sharply disagreed with an NFL spokesman’s assertion that the quarterback had not responded to an invitation to meet one-on-one with Goodell. The lawyer, Mark Geragos, said that he had informed the league on Nov. 1 that Kaepernick “would be happy to attend” a meeting with the commissioner, but that the presence of a mediator would be required because of the grievance.

“Well, it’s a little more complicated — we’ve always invited Colin to come over, he’s always welcome to come over and meet at any point in time. So we’ve had an open door on that,” Goodell said Monday. He said his “understanding” was that Kaepernick had been invited “in that circumstance” by a group of NFL players called the Players Coalition, with whom the league had had “unprecedented dialogue.”

The NFL reached an agreement with the Players Coalition to donate approximately $90 million toward initiatives largely aimed at African American communities, but some players quit the group out of unhappiness with the negotiating process. The Coalition has also received criticism that it essentially sold out the protesting players to a league eager to halt the demonstrations as soon as possible, although the agreement does not mandate that the protests end.


Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, a leader of the Players Coalition, rebutted those accusations in a recent statement in which he said that “it was never about the money or having our voices bought,” adding, “To hear people call me or anyone else a sellout is insulting.”

Asked by CNBC if there was a way to allow players to protest, but “just not during the anthem,” Goodell replied, “We respect our players. We had an incredible amount of dialogue between the league, the owners, the players, and what we’ve tried to do is create a new platform, which you’re seeing unfold, actually, over the last several weeks and going forward, that is going to give them an opportunity for us to highlight their important work in the community, to make their communities better.

“That’s what the players really wanted: ‘These are issues that we want to address in these communities, and we want the NFL’s support.’ ”

Goodell noted that there were a “very limited number” of player protests Sunday during the anthem. “We think that we’re going to able to address that at some point in the future,” he said. “We want all our players to stand.”

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