Before Colin Kaepernick and an Internet sound chamber that magnifies every single opinion a million times, there was Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.
Abdul-Rauf made headlines a little more than 20 years ago when he sat during the playing of the national anthem, calling the American flag a symbol of oppression that went against his Muslim beliefs. Abdul-Rauf, then playing for the Denver Nuggets, received death threats and hate mail in 1996. He was suspended for one game by the league before a compromise was reached that allowed him to stand and pray with his head down. “You can’t be for God and for oppression,” he explained at the time. “It’s clear in the Koran, Islam is the only way. I don’t criticize those who stand, so don’t criticize me for sitting.”
By 1998, Abdul-Rauf, then 29, was out of the NBA and he sees similarities with what Kaepernick is going through. Kaepernick, who led the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance, has been unable to land NFL work since he remained seated during the anthem last summer in protest of police violence against minorities. Abdul-Rauf told the New York Daily News that Kaepernick is being blackballed by NFL executives and added, “I’m not surprised. As soon as it happened, I expected it. The same thing happened to me.”
In a longer interview with The Undefeated, he explained:
“It’s a process of just trying to weed you out. This is what I feel is going to happen to [Kaepernick]. 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 is, he said, 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 type of examples to spread, so they’ve got to make an example of individuals like this.”
Abdul-Rauf, his beard now tinged with gray, may be closing in on 50. But, as he plays in the Big3 3-on-3 league, he continues to protest and support Kaepernick, whom he has not met.
“It’s priceless to know that I can go to sleep knowing that I stood to my principles,” Abdul-Rauf said. “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.”