In an open letter, former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar claimed that the U.S. Constitution protects NFL player protests during the national anthem, and slammed the league for being “unpatriotic.”
“To deny professional athletes the right to express dissent in a peaceful manner is a disgrace to the Constitution, the opposite of patriotism and shameful moral weakness,” the former Laker legend wrote in an op-ed at The Guardian.
Abdul-Jabbar opens his op-ed by criticizing the league for several of its recent anthem-related controversies, and ended by scoffing, “Then you made it worse.”
In May, you implemented a childish policy about how grown men must respond to the national anthem: a player can stay in the locker room during the anthem, but if he takes the field and then protests, the team and the player can be fined. Oh, Dear Owners. You stood at the precipice of history tasked with deciding whether to choose the principles of the US Constitution over profits of commerce, patriotism over pandering, morality over mob mentality, promoting social justice over pushing beers. Sadly, you blinked. Courage, it seems, is expected only of players.
Abdul-Jabbar then awkwardly likened the Miami Dolphins to the “abusive students in Stanford Prison Experiment” by “over-punishing protesting players,” with an announcement of fines if they broke the NFL’s new anthem ban rule. Of course, the famed Stanford Prison Experiment was recently revealed as a fraud, nonetheless Abdul-Jabbar still used the outdated reference.
The six-time NBA champion went on to lament that we do not understand what the protests are about:
It’s been two years since Colin Kaepernick first took a knee to protest systemic racial injustice, especially police brutality, against people of color. The worst thing about that isn’t that two years later we’re still debating whether players have the right to protest, it’s that not much has changed regarding what Kaepernick was protesting.
Of course, this is not exactly right. Early in his 2016 protests, Colin Kaepernick himself often said that he was protesting against our flag and our nation, and not merely protesting “racial injustice.” Kaepernick variously wore socks depicting police as pigs, claimed the USA was “never great,” and said he could never stand in honor of the American flag.
Abdul-Jabbar goes on to recite statistics he claims shows that blacks are oppressed in America and concluded that Kaepernick’s protests are “the epitome of restraint.”
“Why aren’t you NFL owners outraged by that? If it were white people suffering those same statistics, you wouldn’t even play the national anthem,” the Hall of Famer wrote. “Then again, you wouldn’t have had the opportunity to become owners in the first place.”
The former UCLA Bruin also praised a few owners for standing up for social justice issues instead of “cowering under the false flag of patriotism.”
The activist and former player went on to insist that banning anthem protests is a violation of the U.S. Constitution: “To deny players the right to express their frustration in a peaceful manner is a disgrace to the Constitution, the opposite of patriotism. By compromising ethics to economy, you show moral weakness.”
This is, of course, nonsense. There is no Constitutional right allowing Americans to use an employer’s facilities and time to facilitate personal protests on any issue.
Naturally, Abdul-Jabbar ended his op-ed by throwing the race card:
We all are entitled to our opinions, but when those opinions translate into actions that affect the whole community at large, we have a responsibility to scrutinize those opinions, to hold them to a higher standard of reason. Denying your players their freedom to express their concerns sends a clear message that you don’t value your black players’ values. You’re telling them that they must abide by your white perception of social justice even though you have no experience with the kind of institutional injustice that robs their community of lives, hope, and a future. You are owners in that you own the franchise, but you don’t own the players or their hearts and minds.
The NFL and NFL Players Association are currently hammering out a compromise resolution to the NFL’s anthem rule. The two sides hope to produce a new policy before the start of the season.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.