NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on Tuesday penned a fiery letter condemning NFL owners for denying players the right to protest in a “peaceful manner” as a “disgrace to the Constitution” and the “opposite of patriotism.”
“To deny players the right to express their frustration in a peaceful manner is a disgrace to the Constitution, the opposite of patriotism,” the NBA's all-time leading scorer said in the open letter published by The Guardian. “By compromising ethics to economy, you show moral weakness. And if you think you’re appealing to your fan base, you might be doing the opposite.”
Abdul-Jabbar said denying athletes the freedom to “express their concerns” sends a clear message that league owners “don’t value your black players’ values.”
The NFL has been engaged in a back-and-forth with players over national anthem protests for nearly two years. The movement was started in 2016 when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice.
The league had issued a ban on on-field kneeling in the upcoming season, saying that players who wanted to protest could stay in the locker room during the playing of the anthem.
President TrumpDonald TrumpPence: Supreme Court has chance to right 'historic wrong' with abortion ruling Prosecutor says during trial that actor Jussie Smollett staged 'fake hate crime' Overnight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table MORE, a loud critic of national anthem protesting, celebrated the policy, suggesting that those who can't "stand proudly" during the anthem “shouldn’t be in the country."
Earlier this month, after being pressured by the NFL Player's Association, the league reversed course, saying it is still “working on a resolution to the anthem issue.”
Abdul-Jabbar said the proposed ban is telling players “they must abide by your white perception of social justice” and added that the owners might own their teams but not “the players or their hearts and minds.”
“You’re telling them that they must abide by your white perception of social justice even though you have no experience with the kind of institutional injustice that robs their community of lives, hope and a future,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote. “You are owners in that you own the franchise, but you don’t own the players or their hearts and minds.”
Abdul-Jabbar also pointed out that, despite Trump’s repeated attacks against players who protest, the “worst thing about that isn’t that two years later we’re still debating whether players have the right to protest, it’s that not much has changed regarding what Kaepernick was protesting.”
The former NBA player went on to list a string of statistics surrounding racial injustice, asking why NFL owners weren't “outraged” by the numbers.
“You stood at the precipice of history tasked with deciding whether to choose the principles of the US Constitution over profits of commerce, patriotism over pandering, morality over mob mentality, promoting social justice over pushing beers. Sadly, you blinked. Courage, it seems, is expected only of players,” Abdul-Jabbar continued.
The NBA hall of famer also lauded New York Jets chairman and CEO Christopher Johnson and Giants co-owner Steve Tisch as examples of leaders in the league who have not “cowered under the false flag of patriotism to hide their shame” in efforts to “be fair" in his letter.