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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: ‘The NFL got on the right side of history’

Sibile Marcellus
·Anchor
·4 min read

The sharp backlash surrounding New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ criticism of kneeling during the national anthem led the NFL to reverse its stance on peaceful protests.

With hundreds of thousands of Americans protesting racial injustice following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, the NFL apologized.

“We, the NFL, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black People. We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the NFL, believe Black Lives Matter,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on June 5.

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The NFL, quick to shy away from the subject of racism, was left with no other option, said six-time NBA champion Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“It's really not a surprise at all that the NFL got on the right side of history,” Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA's all-time leading scorer, said in an interview with Yahoo Finance. “What happened to George Floyd, that opened a lot of people's eyes.”

Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick set off a fierce debate in the NFL – and around the country – when he began kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice in 2016.

FILE - In this Dec. 18, 2016, file photo, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) and outside linebacker Eli Harold (58) kneel during the playing of the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. The blackballed quarterback was honored as Week 1 Community MVP by the players' union for his latest $100,000 donation and a back-to-school giveaway in New York City.  (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
In this Dec. 18, 2016, file photo, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) and outside linebacker Eli Harold (58) kneel during the playing of the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

The NFL in 2018 said it would subject teams to fines if players knelt during the national anthem. “It was a subject nobody wanted to talk about,” said Abdul-Jabbar, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and is the author of 16 books. “He was pointing out something that nobody wanted to talk about. And we've seen what the result is by that issue not being dealt with earlier. So many deaths between then and now.”

Trump on kneeling

While many have accepted Drew Brees apology for mistakenly equating peaceful protests with disrespecting the flag, President Trump has criticized him for it. “I am a big fan of Drew Brees,” said Trump. “I think he’s truly one of the greatest quarterbacks, but he should not have taken back his original stance on honoring our magnificent American Flag. OLD GLORY is to be revered, cherished, and flown high.”

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Trump also tore into the NFL’s apology. “Could it be even remotely possible that in Roger Goodell’s rather interesting statement of peace and reconciliation, he was intimating that it would now be O.K. for the players to kneel, or not to stand, for the national anthem, thereby disrespecting our Country & our Flag?” said Trump.

The president’s reaction was no surprise to Abdul-Jabbar. “Well, you know, what would you expect from President Trump? Consider the source, you know? And you know, we can move on and keep doing what we've been doing,” he said.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 07: Sen.Mitt Romney (R-Utah) marches with a crowd singing Little Light of Mine on June 7, 2020 in Washington D.C. (Photo by Michelle Boorstein/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 07: Sen.Mitt Romney (R-Utah) marches with a crowd singing Little Light of Mine on June 7, 2020 in Washington D.C. (Photo by Michelle Boorstein/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Republican Sen. Mitt Romney’s decision to join the protests did, however, surprise Abdul-Jabbar. “Romney was watching with the demonstrators and said ‘Black Lives Matter.’ I mean, I was shocked. My mouth fell open on that one, you know?” he said. “It's a new day and I think we will definitely -- with the people that are understanding what this is all about and lending their voice to the righteous protest, I think we're going to have some significant change.”

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