Three years ago, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat during the national anthem for a pre-season game in protest of the continuous shooting to death of African-Americans by the police.
Kaepernick’s protest was triggered by the shooting to death of Mario Woods. Woods’ killing set off months of protests in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood.
The 26-year-old suffered 21 gunshot wounds, including two to the head and six in his back.
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“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said.
“To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder,” he added.
Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem opened him up to vicious criticism, especially from President Trump – but before Kaepernick, there was a certain Mahmood Abdul-Rauf.
In March 1996, Abdul-Rauf did the unthinkable before a basketball game—setting the stage for Kaepernick.
He refused to stand for the national anthem and that would change his life and career. Hitherto, Abdul-Rauf was on his way to a long and successful career in the NBA.
Abdul-Rauf first shot to the limelight as a Louisiana State University freshman sensation named Chris Jackson.
At just 6-foot-1 and 165 pounds, he averaged 30 points per game with a hair-trigger jumper and acrobatic layups, wrote Jesse Washington in 2016 for The Undefeated. Abdul-Rauf went pro after his sophomore year and was picked third in 1990 by the Denver Nuggets. He converted to Islam the same year.
He was by 1995-96 NBA campaign (season) doing unguardable Stephen Curry things, such as giving Utah 51 points and dropping 32 on Michael Jordan when dealing the Chicago Bulls a rare loss in their 72-win season. That season Abdul-Rauf’s conscience pricked him to stop standing for the anthem. He did that by deliberately staying inside the locker room until a reporter noticed and asked about it…and boom! It exploded.
Abdul-Rauf who’s now 50 like his protégé Kaepernick, viewed the American flag as an oppressive and racist symbol and standing for the anthem would conflict with his Muslim faith.
“You can’t be for God and for oppression. It’s clear in the Quran, Islam is the only way,” he said at the time. “I don’t criticize those who stand, so don’t criticize me for sitting.”
The NBA suspended him for a game on March 12, 1996, arguing that players must stand in a “dignified posture” for the anthem. That cost him almost $32,000 of his $2.6 million salaries.
Following support from the players union Abdul-Rauf reached a compromise with the league that allowed him to stand and pray with his head down during the anthem. The Nuggets, however, traded him at the end of the season to the Sacramento Kings.
Abdul-Rauf’s playing time would drop, losing his starting position. When his contract expired in 1998, he couldn’t get so much as a tryout with any NBA team. He was just 29 years old.
“It’s a process of just trying to weed you out. This is what I feel is going to happen to [Kaepernick],” Abdul-Rauf told The Undefeated. “They begin to try to put you in vulnerable positions. They play with your minutes, trying to mess up your rhythm. Then they sit you more. Then what it looks like is, well, the guy just doesn’t have it anymore, so we trade him.”
“It’s kind of like a setup…you know, trying to set you up to fail and so when they get rid of you, they can blame it on that as opposed to, it was really because he took these positions. They don’t want these types of examples to spread, so they’ve got to make an example of individuals like this.”
Over two decades after his protest, Louisiana State University announced earlier this year it would retire jersey No. 35 in honor of Abdul-Rauf. He played there for two seasons in the late 1980s before going pro.
As the pacesetter to Kaepernick’s 2016 protest, Abdul-Rauf said: “It’s priceless to know that I can go to sleep knowing that I stood to my principles.
“Whether I go broke, whether they take my life, whatever it is, I stood on principles. To me, that is worth more than wealth and fame.”