BY Julian Yap Joe Nin
Mahmoud Abdul–Rauf, who was formerly known as Chris Jackson, before he converted to Islam in 1993, was the true ‘Steph Curry’ of the NBA before today’s Steph Curry from the Golden State Warriors.
Aside from being the third overall pick in the 1990 NBA Draft by the Denver Nuggets, Rauf is considered one of the greatest free throw shooters in the history of the game – he led the league’s top free throw shooter percentage twice, the 1993-94 and 1995-96 seasons.
In November 1995, he scored 30 points and made a career-high, 20 assists against the Phoenix Suns. The next month, Rauf continued to make headlines when he scored a staggering 51 points against the Utah Jazz.
It is no secret that Rauf had an inexplicably successful career in the NBA, spanning over 9 years from 1990-2001 with the Denver Nuggets, Sacramento Kings and the Vancouver Grizzlies.
Everything was well-intact for him until he became increasingly outspoken about his Islamic religious practices.
Rauf refused to stand for nor acknowledge the national anthem, he was warned by his agent, Nasir, about taking such a strong stance, because it could have potential long-term ramifications for his career.
That’s not all.
There’s more. Something worse.
He went a step further by calling the American, a symbol of oppression. A symbol that was not inclusive, neither religiously nor politically.
He made a comment regarding the flag that sparked further outrage and controversy amongst the American people,
“It’s also a symbol of oppression and tyranny, so it depends on how you look at it. You can’t stand for both. You can’t be for God and oppression.”
Was all this a wise move on his part?
Should Rauf just have kept quiet about his own prowess and beliefs?
The NBA immediately suspended him for his refusal to stand with the team for the national anthem, which costed Rauf, $31,707 per missed game.
He was then traded off to the Sacramento Kings in the offseason, where he spent two miserable seasons, 1996-97 and 1997-98, due to injuries and reduced playing time on the court.
What happened next?
Rauf was gone. Forced out of the NBA.
He left to play overseas.
Here is the big question on everyone’s minds.
Is it worth it for athletes to speak their mind in danger of putting their own careers at risk?
There is no right nor wrong answer to this question at all.
In fact, this is a polarising dilemma that athletes are constantly having to battle in the sports landscape, where a lot is at stake – their value and worth as a player, their brand, image and reputation within the sport and industry itself, their ability to not only sustain endorsements and sponsorship deals but also, to attract and generate future opportunities.
The dilemma is a tough one to crack but it is indeed, very much ‘necessary’ to have this discussion.
This is not the first time a big-name athlete has been very forward and outspoken about their prowess and beliefs – like Rauf, quarterback Colin Kaepernick from the San Francisco 49ers, made a firm decision not to stand and instead, sit on the team’s bench for the national anthem last year before their game against the Green Bay Packers in Santa Clara, California.
The main reasoning for his national anthem protest was not meant to, in any way, belittle the police, military or even, the country, but rather to draw attention to what he observes as failings in the United States – the oppression against African-Americans and police brutality.
Danny Karbassiyoon, a former American professional football player who used to play for Arsenal and now, currently working as a scout for them in North America, said on Skype,
“Athletes are very influential in terms of people looking up to them and seeing them as heroes and they have the right to speak their own mind.”
If we were to hold this mindset, Kaepernick should be praised instead of being condemned for his actions because he is standing up for his own rights and his principles on behalf of the African-American community.
This is a community that is so undervalued for their major contribution to sports, particularly, within the NFL – although African-American males may only make up for six percent of the population of the United States, they comprise nearly 70 percent of the players in the National Football League.
That is almost THREE-QUARTERS of all the NFL players put together!
Yes, you heard me correctly.
African-American male players are the MAJORITY ethnic group in the NFL.
Whether you believe it or not, that is a fact supported by VICE.
Kaepernick’s revenue contributions to the league is no short story at all – he had the third highest selling jersey in 2014 and the seventh most coveted jersey in 2015.
It is beyond obvious that the NFL benefits immensely from the work of black men.
Why doesn’t the league then, help to address serious issues of concern to America’s black community? – more specifically, the issue of unarmed black men being killed by law enforcement.
Today, we are seeing more and more high-profile athletes stepping into the spotlight to use their voice, to come forward and speak about civil rights issues specially in the wake of gun violence throughout the United States.
Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul are just a few names of many.
But let’s take, LeBron James, for instance.
This man needs no introduction. AT ALL. None.
As one of the biggest names in basketball in the world, this renowned athlete has never missed a shot if there was even a slightest opportunity to do something good.
That name ring any bell?
He was an unarmed, 17-year-old, African American high school student, who was fatally shot back in 2012 in Sanford, Florida.
This shooting was a wake-up call.
A call for the re-examination of justice.
A call to acknowledge that the issue of race relations in the United States, still exists up till this day and needs to be tackled immediately.
There is no more time left to wonder around.
Gun control is no joke. This situation is very serious. It needs to be controlled.
It may only be one life. But, the loss of one affects the entire globe, not just one nation.
Where does LeBron come into all of this?
He decided to tweet out a picture of his Miami Heat teammates and himself wearing hoodies as an act of solidarity – Martin was wearing a hoodie when he was shot.
He did not stop there.
LeBron also wrote “R.I.P. Trayvon” on his trainers, in order to honour the late teenager.
Back in 2014, another major case caught LeBron’s attention – the death of Eric Garner.
Garner died in Staten Island, New York City, after a New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer supposedly put him in a chokehold for approximately 20 seconds while arresting him – the use of chokeholds is prohibited according to NYPD policy.
In the wake of his death, LeBron and his Cleveland Cavaliers teammate Kyrie Irving wore an ‘I Can’t Breathe’ shirt during the pre-game warmups before a game in Brooklyn against the Nets.
This action was to show his support for the movements warranting for detailed inspection surrounding the issue of police brutality across the country of the United States.
Chivalry is certainly NOT dead.
Trailing back to Kaepernick and Rauf, both are just trying to help as much as they can.
Just like LeBron James.
All of them are using their status as high-profile celebrity athletes and in Kaepernick’s case, the NFL stage, which is a major platform, to do good for the African-American community, for the country.
Take, the annual Super Bowl games, for example.
The NFL is not blind.
They know the extensive reach that this game gets, being broadcasted around the world.
Same thing with its halftime show.
Athletes, in general, are more than just puppets you can throw around just because they have signed and are under contracts to play sports professionally.
Essentially, they are human beings like the rest of us.
They are entitled to their own opinions. They deserve to react, to have feelings, to speak their mind and what is in their heart, to speak up for those who do not have a voice.
Under no reason, can you shoot nor talk down on an athlete for caring about and fighting for humanity.
For wanting to achieve world peace.
I salute athletes who play sports with an intended purpose of wanting to do good in the world and not just worry solely about ‘winning’.
They are brave souls who should be commended for doing that, for taking that risk.
That’s how it should always be, no matter the consequences.
Up till this day, Rauf has no regret of not standing up for nor acknowledging the national anthem despite his personal and more so, professional repercussions.
Fortunately, Kaepernick’s actions did not result in any blowback from his sponsors.
We really need a lot more athletes like Rauf, Kaepernick and LeBron to step up and speak up because it only takes ONE.
One person to make a difference that could have a positive impact in the long run.
Humanity is more important than anything and right now, we need that more than ever given what’s happening out there in the world.
We need to not just become better athletes, but also, be better people in general.
“If you don’t mind the fact that some people won’t like the things you do or say, then you can live with it and speak your mind.”
Emma Johnson, mother of Academy Award winner Whoopi Goldberg