Basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has written a commentary piece in which he equates requiring football players to stand for the national anthem and forcing slaves to sing during their labor.
Abdul-Jabbar made the comparison Tuesday in The Hollywood Reporter, where the retired NBA star is a cultural columnist.
“‘Slaves are generally expected to sing as well as to work,’ observed ex-slave-turned-abolitionist Frederick Douglass. To the slave owners, singing slaves would drown out their own cruelty and oppression, clothe them in a coerced choir of decency,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote. “But it wasn’t enough that the slaves had to sing, they had to sing their oppressor’s feel-good songs that are summed up in the Porgy and Bess refrain of ‘I’ve got plenty of nothin’, and nothin’s plenty for me.’ …
“Currently, the song being demanded is the national anthem during football games.”
NFL players aren’t required to stand for or sing the national anthem. The league announced a policy in the spring requiring them to either stand for the anthem or remain in the locker room, but the new rule was placed on hold in July. The NFL and its players union have yet to announce a policy for this season.
When the new policy was put on hold, President Donald Trump, a frequent critic of the protests, tweeted that players who disrespect the anthem should be suspended.
The NFL National Anthem Debate is alive and well again – can’t believe it! Isn’t it in contract that players must stand at attention, hand on heart? The $40,000,000 Commissioner must now make a stand. First time kneeling, out for game. Second time kneeling, out for season/no pay!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 20, 2018
Abdul-Jabbar wrote that despite the president’s “condemnation,” several players on the Philadelphia Eagles “kneeled during the anthem or raised their fists” before the team’s Aug. 10 preseason game, which he said is “their way of singing their own song.”
“For them, lyrics like ‘land of the free’ don’t accurately represent the daily reality for people of color,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote. “They love their country but want that country to recognize the suffering that occurs when it isn’t living up to its constitutional promises.”
In fact, no one on the Eagles took a knee before the Aug. 10 game. Safety Malcolm Jenkins raised his fist in protest, as he did last season, and he was joined by cornerback De’Vante Bausby. Defensive end Chris Long put his arm around Jenkins in a sign of support. (Cornerback Ron Brooks did take a knee Thursday night before Philadelphia’s second preseason game.)
Abdul-Jabbar continued by pointing to Trump’s response, in which the president tweeted that protesters “wanted to show their ‘outrage’ at something that most of them are unable to define.”
The NFL players are at it again – taking a knee when they should be standing proudly for the National Anthem. Numerous players, from different teams, wanted to show their “outrage” at something that most of them are unable to define. They make a fortune doing what they love……
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 10, 2018
“Who would know better how to define their outrage: the privileged darling of white supremacists, the 94 percent-white team owners, the 75 percent-white head coaches or the 70 percent-black players who actually take the field each week?” Abdul-Jabbar wrote.
“The daily challenge for African-Americans is getting white Americans to listen to their song, especially when it isn’t a grinning, grateful or pandering patriotic song,” he said.
Abdul-Jabbar went on to praise two new films that he said “sing songs that define black America’s continuing frustrations and outrage” — Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” and Boots Riley’s “Sorry to Bother You.”
The basketball legend has been a social activist for decades, even before he changed his name from Lew Alcindor after converting to Islam in 1971.
While he was at UCLA, he boycotted the 1968 Olympics. “It was too difficult for me to get enthusiastic about representing a country that refused to represent me or others of my color,” he later said.
It’s worth noting that the NBA, where Abdul-Jabbar made his mark and continued to work long after his retirement, requires its players to “stand and line up in a dignified posture along the sidelines or on the foul line” during the playing of the national anthem.
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