Just three days out from the start of the new season, an issue the NFL has been desperate to put to bed resurfaced on Monday as its apparel supplier Nike made Colin Kaepernick the face of a new advertising campaign.
Kaepernick has been out of the league since opting out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers in 2017, following a season in which he was both praised and criticised for kneeling during the national anthem in protest at police brutality and perceived racial injustice in the United States.
Yet the fall out from Kaepernick's protest has continually been a problem for the NFL despite his absence from the field.
Scores of players followed Kaepernick's lead in 2016 and were prompted to do so again the following year after president Donald Trump labelled those who kneel "sons of b******".
NFL-Players Coalition, "a charade"
The NFL and a Players Coalition reached an agreement in November for the league to provide $90million to social justice causes. However, an apparent divide in the Players Coalition put paid to any private hopes the NFL may have had of that accord leading to all players voluntarily standing for the anthem, with Eric Reid – Kaepernick's former team-mate and his strongest ally in the protest – labelling the joint effort between the league and the coalition a "charade".
In the same month, Kaepernick filed a grievance against the NFL alleging the league's owners colluded to prevent him signing with another team following the end of his time with the 49ers.
Still, the issue of kneeling for the anthem appeared to be dying down this offseason until the NFL, perhaps in an effort to pacify Trump, came to an agreement on a rule that required all players on the sideline during the national anthem to stand, though stating that players would be allowed to remain in the locker room should they wish.
The decision had the reverse effect. The NFL Players Association (NFLPA) filed a grievance challenging the new policy, claiming it was not consulted by the league, while Trump stated his belief that going into the locker room during the anthem is "worse" than kneeling.
The NFL and NFLPA are now in discussions over the anthem policy, which has effectively been put on hold, but, after seeing its request to dismiss Kaepernick's grievance denied last month, the league now has to deal with the man who started the protest movement being made a poster boy for the company that supplies the jerseys worn by players and thousands of fans in every stadium on a weekly basis.
Trump has yet to have his say, though there has been backlash against Nike from many and, as America awoke on Tuesday, it was Kaepernick, and not Thursday's season opener between Super Bowl champions the Philadelphia Eagles and the Atlanta Falcons, dominating the headlines.
Kaepernick is out of the league and may never return, but the NFL cannot avoid his impact.