Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf Rumors
“The football team here at Mission had taken a knee,” Pusung-Zita said of the move in September, which generated national headlines after it was reported by The Chronicle, “and I was wondering if you had any comments about that?” Abdul-Rauf, standing in front of more than a hundred students in the early afternoon, took a pause before answering a question that has been at the center of sometimes fiery debate in recent weeks touching on sports, social justice and patriotism. “If it’s what you believe, then stick by it,” he said. “I’m a supporter, obviously.” The kneeling, Abdul-Rauf said, showed that “you’re willing to sacrifice and put yourself out there and stand up for what you believe in. … Never allow anyone to take that away from you. Never lose that freedom.”
But when players express their diverse points of view on controversial topics, leagues often struggle with how best to respond. Twenty years ago, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, a guard for the Denver Nuggets, declined to stand for the national anthem, and he was suspended indefinitely by the N.B.A. The league relented after one game, when Abdul-Rauf agreed to stand for the anthem on the condition that he be allowed to bow his head in prayer. “I think the world has changed in the last twenty years,” Tatum said, when I asked him about that precedent. In July, the Women’s National Basketball Association, which is backed by the N.B.A., fined players on three teams and their organizations for wearing black T-shirts during pregame warmups to protest recent shootings by, and violence perpetrated against, police officers.
What was your reaction to the anthem protest of Colin Kaepernick and do you support his actions? Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf: My initial reaction, I was excited simply because I think it’s needed to spark a debate. It’s good to see athletes, in particular, speak out. Our contracts and endorsements have somewhat become tools to keep us silent. So I was excited that he took the stand and I’m for him, 1,000%. No question.
In researching what happened to you in 1996, you were fined, you were suspended and yet there the NBA had no rule against not standing for the national anthem. Why do you think they came down on you so hard? Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf: Well, it goes back, I think, to just the simple fact that as athletes, we’re not expected to [have] social or political positions. It seems like it’s OK to fall into other stereotypes. You have people on rape charges and that’s OK, we can accept that. But to be socially conscious, like a [Chicago Bulls guard] Craig Hodges or whoever, this is unacceptable. So let’s make an example to discourage other athletes from doing the same thing. And this is why I think it went down that way. Bernie [head coach Bernie Bickerstaff] called me into his office. I go down and he begins to tell me “hey they want you to stand or they’re going to suspend you.” I said, “Well, Bernie, tell them to do what they have to do.” I’m so naive at the time, I’m like, “look, well now can I go get dressed?” He said, “No you’re suspended now.” I said, “Well, can I put my clothes on and support the team?” He said “No, you’re not even allowed on the premises.” So I left. And then that’s when it hit the news and the rest is history.
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.”
His playing time dropped. He lost his starting spot. After his contract expired in 1998, Abdul-Rauf couldn’t get so much as a tryout with any NBA team. He was just 29 years old. “It’s a process of just trying to weed you out. This is what I feel is going to happen to [Kaepernick],” Abdul-Rauf said. “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.”