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Before Kaepernick, There Was Abdul-Rauf

…his shooting ability, handles, and delicate touch at the rim is not what he’s best known for. Instead, he’s best known for refusing to stand during the national anthem during the 1995-96 NBA season. He referred to the flag as a “symbol of oppression, of tyranny”.

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Robert M. Trujillo. Public Domain.

Before Kaepernick, There Was Abdul-Rauf

Estimated Reading Time: 5 Minutes

I remember at the start of this year thinking that it was going to be hugely significant in some way. I was thinking more in regards to my career and personal growth and all that. It seems the universe thought, “Nah. Bigger.” It feels as though we are all experiencing some sort of global awakening that has it been a long time coming.

Too Little, Too Late

The NFL’s empty statement condemning racism made me so angry. After cops continue to kill Black people in the street, after Drew Brees completely missed the mark in his statement on the Black Lives Matter movement, after Colin Kaepernick peacefully protested and received backlash and, oh yeah, the end of his NFL career. The statement seems incredibly disingenuous because it feels like it’s stemming from the NFL feeling like they’ve been caught.

Remember Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf?

Do you guys remember former NBA player, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (formerly Chris Jackson)? Abdul-Rauf played in the NBA from 1990 to 2001. He was a first-round pick (third pick overall by the Denver Nuggets) and one of the best free-throw shooters of all time (and a great 3-point shooter!). But his shooting ability, handles, and delicate touch at the rim is not what he’s best known for. Instead, he’s best known for refusing to stand during the national anthem during the 1995-96 NBA season. He referred to the flag as a “symbol of oppression, of tyranny”.

The NBA fined Abdul-Rauf, a Muslim, $31,707 and suspended him for one game because of actions. He agreed to stand during the national anthem moving forward but instead of honoring the flag, he prayed.

His stats for the 1995-96 season were impressive: 43.4% FG, 39.2% 3PT (!!!), 93% FT (led the league), 6.8 APG, and 1.1 SPG. Denver traded him at the end of this season to the Sacramento Kings. In Sacramento, he saw significantly less playing time, playing only 17.1 MPG in his second season there. For reference, he played 35.6 MPG during his final season in Denver.

His NBA career ended shortly after his contract expired. He continued to play in other countries, such as Turkey, Russia and Italy, but the memory of him in the NBA faded.

My, How Things Haven’t Changed

Cut to 2016, 20 years after Abdul-Rauf refused to stand during the national anthem, and we see Colin Kaepernick go through a very similar experience. The Turf has many pieces on Kaepernick: here, here, here, and here.

20 years and so little has changed. It’s no coincidence that both Abdul-Rauf’s and Kaepernick’s respective careers came to an end after their decision to peacefully protest during the national anthem. Abdul-Rauf did an interview with The Undefeated, during which he shared his thoughts on Kaepernick’s (and his own) situation.

“When a person like Kaepernick or anybody else comes and stands out against anything that is contrary to what image they want you to have as an athlete, then they will make an example of you because they want to discourage other athletes from doing the same thing. And that’s just my take on it. And it doesn’t surprise me. It’s just sad. You are hoping that it will galvanize us as people and say, look we not going to tolerate this anymore, period. You ain’t going to do this to this person, and then especially when you see blatant examples of when you’re white or other people doing things that are even worse. I’m talking about assault, battery, rape, whatever and nothing happens. But he speaks out as an activist and you want to deny him access to a profession that he has been training most of his life for, it’s not like he can just pick up right now and go and become an engineer and a doctor. And you are trying to take his livelihood away just because of that when you see all of these other examples.”

Not So “Woke”

In sports, people praise the NBA for being a more “woke” (I’m sorry, I had to) league than others. But, as Abdul-Rauf’s career shows, it’s not all that different. During the 2005-06 season NBA commissioner, David Stern, implemented a new dress code – players are to wear “business casual attire” during team/league activities. In addition to wearing business casual attire, the code also prohibits chains, pendants, or headgear. We saw players, like Allen Iverson who brought the hip-hop generation to the NBA, go from genuinely expressing themselves by wearing chains, du-rags and hats to wearing designer suits. From “hip-hop” to “professional”. Aka from “Black” to “white”.

NBA players have been very public about their stances on social injustice. Players wore shirts that read, “I Can’t Breathe”, after the death of Eric Garner. Players wore black hoodies in solidarity for Trayvon Martin. They’ve criticized President Trump, calling him a “bum” (LeBron James) and an “asset, if you remove the ‘et'” (Steph Curry). But guess what, there’s a rule that players on the field must stand during the anthem. In 2017 NBA commissioner Adam Silver, stated, “…my expectation is that our players will continue to stand for the anthem”. No players have challenged this since Silver made this statement, but I’m curious about how the “wokest” league would respond in the current climate.

The Fight Continues

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this. My brain just spilled out into this article. It’s upsetting to think about how little has changed from Abdul-Rauf to Kaepernick. That being said, I’m hopeful for real change. I’m happy watching much of the world experience a shift to demand justice for the Black community. With countless star athletes speaking out during this uprise, the message will be impossible to ignore and impossible to silence. The world must see Black people as more than elite athletes with superior bodies but inferior minds.

We must call out the Laura Ingrahams of the world who tell Black athletes to “shut up and dribble” but give a white athlete a pass to speak his mind because “he’s a person”. We must not let up.

Black Lives Matter.

We here at The Turf have always been of the mind that standing up for what is right and standing up in opposition to hate and violence is necessary. For resources on how to help the fight against systemic racism in the United States please check out the following links: Black Visions CollectiveLGBTQ Freedom FundNational Bail FundReclaim the BlockColor of Change, and Black Lives Matter

Jamie is an actress, bar manager (and frequenter), beauty blogger, INFP, and of course, NBA fanatic living in Los Angeles. She spends most of her free time curating her Spotify playlists, eating Korean BBQ with her boyfriend, and deciding what color lipstick to wear.

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