LeBron James has been a frequent critic of President Trump. (Phil Long / Associated Press)

LeBron James became the latest athlete to praise a video featuring Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke (D) offering his thoughts on protests by NFL players. The Lakers star, who has expressed support in the past for the originator of the protests, former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, described the video Thursday as a “must watch.”

The video, a version of which began going viral earlier in the week, showed O’Rourke at a recent town hall. O’Rourke, a congressman vying for the seat held by Sen. Ted Cruz (R), was asked if he feels the protests, which have been staged by some players during pregame renditions of the national anthem, are “disrespectful” to military veterans or the country as a whole.

Answering, “No,” but noting that “reasonable people can disagree on this issue, and it makes them no less American to come down on a different conclusion on this issue,” O’Rourke cited the sacrifices made by members of the civil rights movement. “The freedoms that we have were purchased not just by those in uniform, and they definitely were, but also by those who took their lives into their hands, riding those Greyhound buses, the Freedom Riders in the Deep South in the 1960s,” he said.

“Peaceful, nonviolent protests, including taking a knee at a football game to point out that black men, unarmed, black teenagers, unarmed, and black children, unarmed, are being killed at a frightening level right now, including by members of law enforcement, without accountability, and without justice,” O’Rourke, 45, added. He said that “this problem” was not going to “fix itself,” leading to frustration with “people like me, and those in positions of public trust and power, who have been unable to resolve this or bring justice for what has been done.”

“And so non-violently, peacefully, while the eyes of this country are watching these games, they take a knee to bring our attention and our focus to this problem to ensure that we fix it. That is why they are doing it,” he continued. “And I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up, or take a knee, for your rights, any time, anywhere, in any place.”

James, in a tweet posted to his 41.3 million followers, offered a “salute” to O’Rourke “for the candid thoughtful words!”

O’Rourke’s comments began circulating as President Trump launched more attacks on protesting players, who have been frequent targets of his ire. At a rally in West Virginia Tuesday, Trump told his audience, “You’re proud of our country, you’re proud of our history, and unlike the NFL, you always honor and cherish our great American flag.”

Trump also castigated ESPN, whose president recently said that his network, as it and other broadcasters of NFL games have usually done in the past, would not show the anthem before games. Trump followed that up by starting a petition Wednesday promoted by a campaign fundraising committee in his name, demanding that the “spineless” ESPN cease its “surrender to the politically correct liberal mob” and televise the anthem.

Golden State Warriors Coach Steve Kerr, who has been outspoken on political and social topics — and has lobbed more than a few jabs at Trump — posted the O’Rourke video Tuesday and asked his followers to “watch this and be reminded of what thoughtful leadership looks and sounds like.”

A pair of Super Bowl winners who now analyze the NFL on TV, Kurt Warner and Tony Dungy, both shared the video on Wednesday. “If you want some insight into the National Anthem kneeling controversy, watch this,” Dungy said. “If you’ve already made up your mind that kneeling is disrespectful and facts and history won’t change your mind there’s no need to watch.”

“Every past & present fan of NFL — please listen — I believe he hit the nail on the head,” Warner said of O’Rourke, “[and] he did so not by dividing the 2 sides but by joining them together in realizing the freedoms of our country have been forged by soldiers but also by many others who have fought in [different] ways!”

Less taken by the video, not surprisingly, was Cruz, who said Saturday at a campaign stop, “When Beto O’Rourke says he can’t think of anything more American, well I got to tell you, I can.”

On Thursday, Cruz shared a comment by Kevin Bacon, in which the actor praised the video. “Most Texans stand for the flag, but Hollywood liberals are so excited that Beto is siding with NFL players protesting the national anthem that Kevin Bacon just retweeted it,” Cruz said in response. “That means all of us can now win Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon!”

Much as the NFL would like the issue of player protests to go away completely, it has not, in part because Trump won’t let it. He has brought it up frequently at rallies and on Twitter, despite the fact that, for the most part, only a relative handful of players have staged demonstrations.

The NFL attempted in May to impose a rule that would mandate that players could either stand on the sideline and “show respect for the flag and the anthem,” or remain in their respective locker rooms until the song had been performed. However, under pressure from the players union, the league put the policy on hold in July, resulting in another round of criticism from Trump, and it has been unable to arrive at a new one as the regular season opener nears.

Meanwhile, Kaepernick remains out of the league since becoming a free agent in March 2017, and he has filed a grievance against the NFL claiming that team owners have colluded to punish him for his activism. “The fact that racial inequality is back in the forefront of political discussions makes me appreciate Kaepernick even more,” Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell said Thursday while sharing the O’Rourke video.

James praised Kaepernick last year for being willing to “sacrifice everything for the greater good for everyone, for what he truly believed in,” adding, “Obviously, he had a vision like Martin Luther King [Jr.]”

James has also criticized Trump frequently, including calling the president a “bum” and saying that Trump doesn’t “give a f— about the people” and has made “hate” “fashionable again.” After James said recently on CNN that Trump is “trying to divide us,” the president fired back on Twitter by insulting the intelligence of the four-time NBA MVP.

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