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Holder praises NBA stars for 'I can't breathe' shirts

Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderPoll: Biden and Sanders lead 2020 Dem field, followed by Beto O'Rourke Trump's shortlist for attorney general takes shape Pipe bomb suspect to be held without bail MORE said he thought was “a good thing” that NBA players were protesting the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner by wearing “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts during the warm-ups before games.

“For them to get out there and to express in that way a social conscience, I think goes back to maybe people that these guys don’t even know or my son has a vague awareness of, to Jackie Robinson, who is seen as not only a great athlete, but as an involved, thinking, caring black man,” Holder told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“And to have LeBron [James], Derrick Rose and others who wore those ‘I Can’t Breathe’ shirts, that shows a level of involvement. It shows a depth to them beyond just being great ballplayers.”

Holder also said that, for many people,  including his own teenage son, top athletes were more important than political figures.

NBA stars began wearing the shirts after a grand jury opted against indicting police officers who put Garner, an unarmed black man, into a chokehold as they were attempting to arrest him. The decision — coupled with a grand jury’s decision not to indict a Ferguson, Mo., police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager — have sparked mass protests around the country.

Holder has pledged a federal civil rights investigation.

His comments expanded on those of President Obama, who told ESPN Radio last week that he saw athletes’ expressions of political views as “important.”

Obama noted the legacy of athletes like Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell and Arthur Ashe, who "spoke out on issues that matter at pretty critical times."

"They're citizens as well as entertainers, and they've got a voice that is legitimate," Obama said.

Holder said in the article published Monday he believed there was “just no need” for police departments to continue using chokeholds during arrests.

“I mean, there are any number of ways in the 21st century, both with regards to training and other technological things that we can do that you can come up with ways in which you can immobilize the subject without using a chokehold,” Holder said.