Several athletes have publicly denounced Colin Kaepernick for opting to sit down in protest during the national anthem. But arguably one of the smartest athletes in sports history, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, has now come down on Kaepernick's side.
The NBA's all-time leading scorer, former U.S. cultural ambassador, best-selling author, activist, and all-around badass wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post on Tuesday defending Kaepernick. Abdul-Jabbar also offered some context to the controversy by providing an expansive definition of patriotism.
"Patriotism isn’t just getting teary-eyed on the Fourth of July or choked up at war memorials. It’s supporting what the Fourth of July celebrates and what those war memorials commemorate: the U.S. Constitution’s insistence that all people should have the same rights and opportunities and that it is the obligation of the government to make that happen. When the government fails in those obligations, it is the responsibility of patriots to speak up and remind them of their duty."
Abdul-Jabbar continued his defense of Kaepernick by detailing the 49ers quarterback's form of patriotism. The basketball legend used Kaepernick's own words from his press conference last weekend.
"One of the ironies of the way some people express their patriotism is to brag about our freedoms, especially freedom of speech, but then brand as unpatriotic those who exercise this freedom to express dissatisfaction with the government’s record in upholding the Constitution. Colin Kaepernick explained why he will not stand during the national anthem: “There are a lot of things that are going on that are unjust [that] people aren’t being held accountable for. And that’s something that needs to change. That’s something that this country stands for — freedom, liberty, justice for all. And it’s not happening for all right now.”
The NBA Hall of Famer placed Kaepernick's stance in the context of other athletes' controversial political actions in the service of racial justice, including Muhammad Ali's refusal to be drafted in 1967—an action which cost him both his heavyweight title and years of the prime of his fighting career. Abdul-Jabbar also mentioned U.S. Olympic athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their black-gloved fists in protest of the treatment of people of color after receiving their medals in the 1968 Olympics.
"What should horrify Americans is not Kaepernick’s choice to remain seated during the national anthem," he wrote, "but that nearly 50 years after 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."
You can read the rest of Abdul-Jabbar's editorial here.