February 4th, 1996.
The Chicago Bulls team led by the greatest basketball player of all-time, Michael Jordan and his superstar wingman Scottie Pippen came to Denver to face a struggling Nuggets team. These Bulls would go on to set the record for most wins in an NBA season with a final regular season record of 72 wins and 10 losses. At this point in the season the red hot Bulls were at an astonishing 41 wins and 4 losses, facing a 19 wins and 26 losses Nuggets.
It’s obvious who was favored to win this game. Michael Jordan, up to his usual antics, finished the game with 39 points, but would somehow end up losing to the underdog by 6 points that night. How is this even possible? Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf is how. Mahmoud poured in 32 points versus the virtually inarguable best team ever, with the best player ever, and one of the best wingmen ever–serving them one of their 10 losses for the season and breaking an 18-game winning streak. Somehow Mahmoud would find himself seeing less time on the floor and more time on the bench in the next two seasons, before finally having to play overseas because no NBA team would sign him. ₁ Bulls vs Nuggets 1996 match up.
March 12th, 1996.
The whole 1995-1996 NBA season, Mahmoud would keep himself busy during the national anthem. He’d be stretching or he’d just stay in the locker room. It would go unnoticed up until March, when he was asked about it by a reporter. That’s when it got crazy for him. Formerly known as Chris Jackson (prior to converting to Islam), Mahmoud openly told media about his religious views which would not endear him to the majority of NBA fans.
“You can’t be for God and for oppression. It’s clear in the Quran, Islam is the only way. I don’t criticize those who stand, so don’t criticize me for sitting.”
This blog post’s title should be making sense now. The remorseless Abdul-Rauf wouldn’t say this, but his response to the reporter was an expensive mistake. His one game suspension as a result of not “lining up in a dignified posture” for the national anthem ended up costing him $32,000 (total salary was $2.6 million at that time). Fortunately for him, he was backed by the NBA Players Union which helped reach the agreement that allowed him to stand with his head down and pray during the national anthem. ₂
The clear-cut most potent offensive player on the Denver Nuggets would be traded to the Sacramento Kings for the remaining two years of his contract. In his final year in Denver he averaged 35.6 minutes per game, the next season in Sacramento he averaged 28.4, then his playing time was reduced to just 17.1 minutes per game in his final year of that contract. Once that contract was up he’d get no calls from any of 29 teams. Still in the prime years of his basketball prowess, the 29 year old Mahmoud would have to seek employment overseas, playing short stints in Turkey, Russia, Italy, Greece, Saudi Arabia and Japan. ₃
Mahmoud on Kaepernick
“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’s kind of like 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.” ₂
Athletes that have spoken out against social injustice have been told to “shut up and dribble“, they’ve been called “sons of b*****s,” and have been told to stick to sports. This malice is the same malice that Mahmoud dealt with, but the NBA has become much more progressive over the years. “Tolerant and progressive”, “fashionable,” are a few words he’s used to describe the league in its modernity.
Star NBA players LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul opened the ESPYS (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award) on July 13th, 2016 to make a statement to the world that ‘enough is enough.’ Anthony opened the show by saying:
“The events of the past week have put a spotlight on the injustice, distrust, and anger that plague so many of us. The system is broken. The problems are not new, the violence is not new, and the racial divide definitely is not new. But the urgency to create change is at an all-time high.” ₄
Their collective speech came shortly after recent police killings and the sniper attack in Dallas, Texas. The players have a collective following of roughly 65 million Twitter followers, so all eyes were on them as they urged fellow athletes and people with influence to join the fight against oppression.
It is very refreshing to see that these influential players aren’t afraid to speak out. Even the NBA champion Golden State Warriors openly stated that they will not be visiting the White House (annual tradition for teams that win the NBA championship). President Donald Trump quickly let the world know that the champs were no longer invited in an angry tweet.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr cited inclusion, civil discourse and dignity in his reasoning for why it was difficult to visit the White House. Trump has verbally attacked professional athletes countless times for failing to kneel for the national anthem, which has made it hard for many to want anything to do with him. ₅ Trump’s reactions to the outspokenness of professional athletes shows the power of activism in sports.
An article written by Ryan Morgan of TheMarySue.com, who grew up in Denver watching Nuggets basketball and Abdul-Rauf for his four years there also shed light on the power of activism in sports. Morgan credited Mahmoud for getting him to think about racial injustice for the first time in his –in his own words– “sheltered and privileged” life. At a young age, Morgan was able to make connections between the efforts of Mahmoud and the efforts of Martin Luther King J.R. and Rosa Parks.
His refusal to conform and not allow fear to conquer him allowed for him to become the influential presence that he is today. I hope that Mahmoud will one day stumble across this Ryan Morgan piece, or at least get to read this quote:
“For me, even as an 11-year-old with no concept at all of the history he was following or the risks he was taking, the courage resonated. It’s obviously too easy to say that Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf alone opened my eyes to racial and religious injustice, when life is messier than that, and causes and effects less clear, and the journey to genuinely have open eyes ongoing. But it is true without question that Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf meant something to me, even if I couldn’t identify what. And it’s true that my road out of the arch-conservative, unblinkingly evangelical values of my suburb and my school, of so much as having the desire to know more than I do or recognize my white privilege blind spots, started with his refusal to stand.” ₃
Well done, Abdul-Rauf.
back to Colin Kaepernick who is still without a job…and it’s not because of lack of talent. He’s a highly capable and competent quarterback who has performed better than a number of starting and back up quarterbacks who still have jobs. In fact, a collection of NFL executives felt that he was a better player than 6 currently employed players at his position. The collection of execs featured nine general managers, 13 coordinators, six personnel directors, five other executives, five head coaches, seven other assistant coaches, three analytics directors and two national scouts –knowledgeable football folks. ₆
I’d like to thank Complex.com for this dope, insightful article, filled with graphics and stats that even non-football fans can understand. Click here to check it out, but I’ll drop a few highlights here from the 2016-2017 NFL season.
Here are the facts:
1) Kaep had a higher percentage of completed passes than Blake Bortles, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Cam Newton and was tied with Jay Cutler at 59.1%. Kaep stood at #28 out of 37 total eligible QBs.
2) Kaep was #7 in Touchdown-Interception ratio, behind only Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Derek Carr, Tom Brady, Dak Prescott, and Sam Bradford.
3) The highest amount of yards gained by completed passes in the NFL was 2,709…by none other than Colin Kaepernick. ₇
To me, this is the power of speaking out. NFL teams would rather put the ball in the hands of less talented players than a clearly talented, vocal leader pushing for social change. We’ve seen this before…
- “Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf Stats.” Basketball-Reference.com, http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/a/abdulma02.html.
- Washington, Jesse. “Still No Anthem, Still No Regrets for Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.” The Undefeated, The Undefeated, 1 Sept. 2016, theundefeated.com/features/abdul-rauf-doesnt-regret-sitting-out-national-anthem/.
- Morgan, Ryan. “How Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf’s Refusal to Stand for the National Anthem Taught Me About Racial Injustice.” The Mary Sue, The Mary Sue, 28 Sept. 2017, http://www.themarysue.com/abdul-rauf-and-the-anthem/.
- Messer, Lesley, and David Caplan. “ESPYS 2016: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony Call for an End to Violence.” ABC News, ABC News Network, 13 July 2016, abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/espys-2016-lebron-james-dwyane-wade-chris-paul/story?id=40563702.
- Shelburne, Ramona, and Chris Haynes. “Donald Trump Says Warriors Not Welcome at White House.” ESPN, ESPN Internet Ventures, 24 Sept. 2017, http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/20791355/president-donald-trump-says-golden-state-warriors-not-welcome-white-house.
- Sanchez, Mark W. “NFL Execs Admit Kaepernick Is Better than These 6 Starters.” New York Post, New York Post, 23 Aug. 2017, nypost.com/2017/08/23/nfl-execs-admit-kaepernick-is-better-than-these-6-starters/.
- Garcia, Raphael. “Colin Kaepernick Is Actually Better Than Many of the NFL’s First and Second-String Quarterbacks.” Complex, Complex, 21 Aug. 2017, http://www.complex.com/sports/2017/08/kaepernick-is-better-than-most-quarterbacks/.