Regardless of whether he ends up playing in the NFL this year, Colin Kaepernick and his protests have left their mark on pro sports. Teams have had to release formal statements denying they're trying to blackball him from the NFL, and his peaceful protest has sparked a lot of debate over the role of protest within professional sports.
Even for owners of teams in other sports leagues, the Kaepernick saga has been an important one to follow. And if you ask one of the NBA's most vocal owners, Dallas Mavericks' firebrand Mark Cuban, his league is far better equipped to handle causes like Kaepernick's. He said as much to The Washington Post, saying he believes a player in a similar position would be embraced by the NBA as a whole.
“I don’t know what his status is in the NFL, but I’m glad the NBA doesn’t have a politician litmus test for our players. I’d like to think we encourage our players to exercise their constitutional rights," said Cuban. "The NBA is such a global game, I think our players' exposure to different political systems among their teammates may help them appreciate our country even more and encourage their participation."
No entity as large as the NBA can claim to be perfect on social issues—remember, they let Donald Sterling own a team—but the NBA does have a strong recent track record when it comes to forms of peaceful protest. A group of players including LeBron James and Kyrie Irving wore, "I CAN'T BREATHE" shirts prior to several games in late 2014, as a tribute to the late Eric Garner, whose life was claimed by NYPD. James was part of a similar tribute during his days with the Miami Heat, posing in hoodies with Dwyane Wade and other teammates in memory of slain teenager Trayvon Martin.
On the league's behalf, they've also taken some drastic steps to protect and promote human rights. They famously moved the All-Star Game out of Charlotte for 2017, amidst outrage regarding anti-LGBT bathroom laws drawn up by North Carolina legislators. Commissioner Adam Silver announced the decision with a forceful statement at the time.
"We have been guided in these discussions by the long-standing core values of our league," said Silver. "These include not only diversity, inclusion, fairness and respect for others, but also the willingness to listen and consider opposing points of view."
Contrary to Cuban's claim, however, the league does have some history with a protest similar to Kaepernick's and it didn't go so well.
Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, best known for his time with the Denver Nuggets, was in the midst of his best pro season when he launched a national anthem protest, allegedly refusing to stand because of his deeply-held Muslim values. The league suspended him for a game—costing him roughly $32,000 in the process—and following pressure from the NBA players union, reached a "compromise" that forced him to stand but allowed him to bow his head and pray with his head down. Two years following his best season as a pro, Abdul-Rauf was out of the league and playing in Turkey.
That was 20 years ago, and now the NBA's actions on social issues have changed dramatically. But it's worth noting as a historical comparison, because there's at least some precedent for the league failing to step up to the plate for a similar player.
In any case, Kaepernick may not ever get another shot, but he has a strong group of supporters standing behind him. A Change.org petition is calling for a total NFL boycott if Kaepernick doesn't find work, and as of this writing, over 30,000 people have already pledged to stand in solidarity with the quarterback.
The real shame in all this is that Kaepernick's stance is a controversy to begin with. Speaking out against injustice is as patriotic as it gets, and he has been able to spark dialogue and support through silent, peaceful protest. If he loses out on a job because of that, the parties involved should feel ashamed.
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