Before Colin Kaepernick, There Was Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf Who Shunned the National Anthem
For two seasons, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick did his talking on the football field. Kaepernick led his team to a Super Bowl berth during the 2012 season when the 49ers finished the regular season with a 12-4 record. Since then, things haven’t gone well football-wise for Kaepernick, who went 3-16 in his final two seasons as a starter and made more noise away from the football field mainly because he refused to stand for the national anthem.
Kaepernick’s rise and fall in the NFL
Colin Kaepernick began his career with the San Francisco 49ers as a backup quarterback to Alex Smith, who was injured during Week 10 of the 2012 season. Kaepernick played the remainder of the season, giving his team an added dimension with his speed, and led them to a berth in Super Bowl XLVII where 49ers fell to the Baltimore Ravens 34-31.
The following season, Kaepernick started all 16 games for San Francisco and guided the Niners to a 12-4 mark. He threw for 3,197 yards and 21 touchdowns, but the 49ers lost to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL title game. In 2014, Kaepernick started all 16 games again as the Niners dipped to 8-8. In his final two seasons with the team, his play dropped dramatically. He went 1-10 as a starter in 2016.
In that 2016 season, Kaepernick made news during the third preseason game when he sat during the national anthem, saying “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” For the rest of the season, he kneeled during the anthem, causing some to praise him and others to denounce his protests as disrespectful. After the 2016 season, Kaepernick never played a down in the NFL again. Some say he was blackballed by the league, while others point to a drastic decline in performance as being the reason.
Colin Kaepernick wasn’t the first athlete to sit during the anthem
In March of 1996, Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, formerly known as Chris Jackson, refused to stand during the national anthem before a game. At first, nobody seemed to notice, but when a reporter question him, the issue came to light. Abdul-Rauf, like Colin Kaepernick viewed the flag as a symbol of oppression and racism.
“You can’t be for God and for oppression,” he said. “It’s clear in the Quran, Islam is the only way,” he said at the time. “I don’t criticize those who stand, so don’t criticize me for sitting.” The NBA has a rule that states all players must line up in a ‘dignified posture’ during the anthem. The league suspended Abdul-Rauf for a game, costing him $32,000.
After the incident, Abdul-Rauf stood for the anthem, but kept his head down and prayed. Abdul-Raul, who led the team with a 19.2 scoring average, was traded by the Nuggets at the end of the season.
Twenty years later, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf still has no regrets
Mahmoud Abdul -Rauf, in an interview with The Undefeated in 2016, said he believes teams will do what they can to get rid of someone who goes against their beliefs. “They begin to try to put you in vulnerable positions,” he said. “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 types of examples to spread, so they’ve got to make an example of individuals like this.”
He said despite the ridicule he received, he has no regrets. “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.”