Twenty years later, despite losing prime years of NBA stardom, enduring death threats and having his home burned to the ground, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf still does not stand for the national anthem.
The quicksilver guard who foreshadowed NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest is now living in Atlanta, taking care of his five teenage children along with his ex-wife, training NBA players, and giving occasional speeches to groups in black or Muslim communities. At age 47, he has no regrets about choosing the difficult journey that Kaepernick is just starting.
“It’s priceless to know that I can go to sleep knowing that I stood to my principles,” Abdul-Rauf told The Undefeated. “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.”
Abdul-Rauf has never spoken to Kaepernick, and isn’t a football fan. But he supports the quarterback’s protest and message “1,000 percent,” saying that it created a valuable debate.
“It’s good to continue to draw people’s attention to what’s going on whether you’re an athlete, a politician, or a garbage man. These discussions are necessary,” he said. “Sometimes it takes people of that stature, athletes and entertainers, because the youth are drawn to them, [more than] teachers and professors, unfortunately.”
Kaepernick and Abdul-Rauf sat for different reasons, but the underlying ideas behind the acts – America wrongfully oppresses people, America rightfully protects free speech – are similar.
Abdul-Rauf’s motivations were largely lost amid controversy about his method of protest. The same is happening with Kaepernick, though not as severely, because Abdul-Rauf forged this path 20 years ago.
So, I’ll end with the questions I posed previously:
Is sitting during the national anthem an affront to American values? Is racism an affront to American values?
Which is worse? Which are you more angry about?