NBA Legend Calls Kaepernick’s Anthem Protest ‘Highly Patriotic’
(ABC News) – Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar weighed in on the controversy surrounding Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit out the national anthem in an op-ed published today in The Washington Post, portraying the athlete’s protest as “highly patriotic.”
“What should horrify Americans is not Kaepernick’s choice to remain seated during the national anthem, but that nearly 50 years after [Muhammad] Ali was banned from boxing for his stance and Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s raised fists caused public ostracization and numerous death threats, we still need to call attention to the same racial inequities,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote, referencing prominent protests by black athletes that were once considered controversial, but have now become iconic symbols of the U.S. civil rights movement.
Abdul-Jabbar’s defense of Kaepernick comes amid growing pushback against the quarterback’s actions.
Republican nominee Donald Trump said Monday that “maybe [Kaepernick] should find a country that works better for him,” and fans posted videos of themselves burning Kaepernick jerseys and other memorabilia on social media.
Abdul-Jabbar, a NBA Hall of Fame center who starred for the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers, and holds the league record for points scored, blocks and MVP awards, certainly adds stature to those defending Kaepernick’s protest.
Previously, the most vocal defenders had been activists like Black Lives Matter advocate and New York Daily News columnist Shaun King.
The retired NBA star, 69, noted in his column the degree to which Kaepernick took on a financial risk by speaking up for his beliefs, and compared him to Army Reserve 2nd Lt. Sam Kendricks who, while competing in Rio, stopped short while pole-vaulting to honor the national anthem.
Abdul-Jabbar wrote that both athletes made a sacrifice.
“What makes an act truly patriotic and not just lip-service is when it involves personal risk or sacrifice. Both Kendricks and Kaepernick chose to express their patriotism publicly because they felt that inspiring others was more important than the personal cost,” he said.
He also portrayed the matter as a non-partisan issue, suggesting that a discussion around Kaepernick comes at a time when “Trump and Clinton supporters each righteously claiming ownership of the ‘most patriotic’ label.”
Abdul-Jabbar is no stranger to commenting on political matters, and is widely regarded as liberal. He regularly contributes opinion pieces on issues of race and religion to The Washington Post and The Huffington Post.
He disappointed some progressives by endorsing Hillary Clinton in advance of the New York primaries in April in an op-ed for The Washington Post in which he praised Sanders’ “dedication to the welfare of all Americans,” but said he preferred Clinton, whom he called a”proven warrior.”
Abdul-Jabbar was born in New York City, and first emerged as a high school basketball star there.
In 1967, Abdul-Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor, participated in what is known as “the summit,” which was a news conference lending support to Muhammad Ali’s decision to protest the Vietnam War.
NBA legend Bill Russell and NFL star Jim Brown were among the other notable attendees of the 1967 news conference.
New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony referenced “the summit” in an Instagram post in July, calling for fellow athletes to join in similar protests surrounding the police shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.