The following guest article was written by long-time Denver Stiffs reader and comment moderator, Mancar. The views expressed are his own. DenverStiffs.com's own Jeff Morton has written about this topic before in his excellent piece titled "Sometimes you have to sit to make a stand." More recently, our own Mike Olson wrote about "the NBA as an agent for change."
Money and entertainment. That is all sports are, right? Contracts, sponsorships, winning and losing, and shoe deals and living the high life is what we know of sports. When players go against this mold they seem to be upsetting a fragile establishment within sports. Their forms of expression are worn down to celebrations after an impressive feat or 140 characters on twitter. We make the mistake of seeing players as just that, players. Often times we let our judgments of a player blind us by a single action. So when a player decides to protest in a civilized manner we must decide if he/she should be ridiculed or should he/she be embraced? That seems to be the crossroads we find ourselves faced with the recent protests by some NFL players. But not so long ago a Denver Nugget player did exactly the same thing and the public response was far different than the one we see today.
Oppression comes in many different forms. However it seems that even those things are only weighted in the eye of the beholder. Often times it comes from forcing an ideal upon people. Other times it comes from denying an act of freedom to someone. During the middle of the 1995-1996 NBA season Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (formerly Chris Jackson) was missing from the pregame national anthem lineup. It wasn't noticeable. As the season began to wear on, Mahmoud's absence from the pregame national anthem lineup became more and more noticeable and began to cause more and more of an uproar. The situation was fully exposed when Mahmoud was forced to come to the pre game national anthem lineup. Instead of standing he decided to sit. When pressed on the issue he told people that the flag was a symbol of oppression. A symbol of tyranny. His act of sitting was based upon his belief that the anthem was a ritualistic ceremony. Perhaps more than that his act of sitting was his right as a human being.
We tie what we are as human beings, not to our ideals or human instincts or our inherent beliefs but rather to nationalism, our jobs, and our hobbies. What Mahmoud did (and what NFL players are redoing) is express his (and their) belief in a civil manner. He did not burn a flag, kill a person, or deny anyone else a freedom. Whether you agree with what Mahmoud did or not the fact remains that he was expressing his inherent right to express his belief. Now that is not to say that expressing a belief comes without consequence.
After the national audience captured Mahmoud sitting during the national anthem, the NBA swiftly gave into the public rage and suspended Mahmoud for one game without pay. The NBA put tremendous pressure on the Denver Nuggets organization to do something about Mahmoud's stand. Mahmoud was able to come to a compromise with the team and the NBA in that he would close his eyes during the national anthem. Later he would be allowed to make a prayer (in the Islamic fashion) during the anthem.
Oppression comes in many different forms. Whether it is forcing a player to stand for something he does not want to stand for or simply not giving a person a voice because their ideals stray from the norm. Players stand for the national anthem because it symbolizes what this nation is and it symbolizes freedom. Players sit and kneel and protest during the anthem for the exact same reason. There is a culture revolution that is happening in the United States to which everyone has heard or been effected by. There are many other forms that players could use but the National Anthem was used by Mahmoud and is continually being used by other athletes for protest. Because in the grand scheme of things it is a symbol that holds great weight and evokes action.
Mahmoud's actions of protesting during the national anthem gave way to the protests that are currently happening in other sports. It is not a platform to ridicule the United States rather exemplify what the United States stands for....Freedom. Freedom is a fragile thing and it is a two way street. The freedom to stand or sit for your convictions, the freedom to have a voice and to be seen as person rather than an athlete.
Mahmoud took a stand for what he believes in and paid a real price for it as he was never seen as the same. Athletes risk millions of dollars to take a stand. They risk ridicule, shaming, and harassment from millions of people on a constant basis. But for every athlete there are MILLIONS of people that risk much more. Would you risk those things to take a stand for what you believe in?