Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Colin Kaepernick’s protest is ‘highly patriotic’

San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert talk on the sideline during an Aug. 26 preseason game against the Green Bay Packers at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
(Tony Avelar / Associated Press)

Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has sided with Colin Kaepernick, saying the San Francisco 49ers quarterback “behaved in a highly patriotic manner” by sitting during the national anthem before a preseason football game.

Kaepernick quarterback told reporters last week that he plans to continue his protest against social injustice. “When there’s significant change — and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way it’s supposed to — I’ll stand,” he said.

Abdul-Jabbar wrote in an op-ed piece for the Washington Post on Tuesday: “Patriotism isn’t just getting teary-eyed on the Fourth of July or choked up at war memorials. It’s supporting what the Fourth of July celebrates and what those war memorials commemorate: the U.S. Constitution’s insistence that all people should have the same rights and opportunities and that it is the obligation of the government to make that happen. When the government fails in those obligations, it is the responsibility of patriots to speak up and remind them of their duty.”


He concluded the piece by saying: “ What should horrify Americans is not Kaepernick’s choice to remain seated during the national anthem, but that nearly 50 years after [Muhammad] Ali was banned from boxing for his stance and Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s raised fists caused public ostracization and numerous death threats, we still need to call attention to the same racial inequities. Failure to fix this problem is what’s really un-American here.

Kaepernick’s protest has drawn plenty of responses from around the football world.

Rodney Harrison

Rodney Harrison tweeted an apology Tuesday after stating during a radio interview earlier in the day that Colin Kaepernick is “not black.”

Harrison, a former NFL running back who is now an analyst on NBC, was asked his thoughts on the matter during a SportsTalk 790 interview in Houston. After stating that Kaepernick has a right to stage a protest but his actions might be offensive to those who fought for this country, Harrison suddenly took his response in a different direction.

“And I’ll tell you this — I’m a black man, and, you know, Colin Kaepernick, he’s not black, OK?” Harrison said. “He cannot understand what I face and what other young black men and black people face or people of color face on an every single [day] basis.”

Kaepernick’s birth mother is white, and he was adopted and raised by white parents.

Harrison was quick to apologize on Twitter.

“I never intended to offend anyone , I was trying to speak about my experiences as a African American,” he tweeted. “I apologize to anyone that I offended , wasn’t meant to be hurtful to anyone. God bless.”


Harrison added in a third tweet: “Last point I want people to know. I never even knew he was mixed.”

Less than a half-hour later, Harrison tweeted again: “ I should not have called Colin Kaepernick’s race into question during this morning’s radio interview. It was a mistake and I apologize.”

Jerry Rice

49ers legend Jerry Rice tweeted Monday night: “All lives matter. So much going on in this world today. Can we all just get along! Colin, I respect your stance but don’t disrespect the Flag.”

Jim Harbaugh

On Monday, Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh tweeted an apology for saying he doesn’t “respect the motivation” behind Kaepernick’s action.


Earlier in the day, Harbaugh was asked what he thought about Kaepernick’s protest. The ex-49ers coach said of his former player: “I acknowledge his right to do that, but I don’t respect the motivation or the action.”

Soon after, Harbaugh took part of that statement back on Twitter. “I apologize for misspeaking my true sentiments. To clarify, I support Colin’s motivation. It’s his method of action that I take exception to,” he wrote.

Drew Brees

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees said Monday he views the flag as “sacred.”

“I disagree. I wholeheartedly disagree,” Brees said of Kaepernick’s sitting during the anthem. “Not that he wants to speak out about a very important issue. No, he can speak out about a very important issue. But there’s plenty of other ways that you can do that in a peaceful manner that doesn’t involve being disrespectful to the American flag.”

Richard Sherman

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said: “There are certain statistics that are put out there to make sure police profile certain people in certain neighborhoods, and that needs to change. So there is some depth and some truth to what [Kaepernick is] doing. I think he could have picked a better platform and a better way to do it, but every day they say athletes are so robotic and do everything by the book. And then when somebody takes a stand like that, he gets his head chopped off.”


Myke Tavarres

Philadelphia linebacker Myke Tavarres told ESPN on Monday he plans on sitting during the anthem before the Eagles’ fourth preseason game. But later in the day, the undrafted rookie said in a statement that he had changed his mind:

“I want to apologize for the distraction I’ve become to all of Eagle Nation. I feel passionate about racial issues going on in our country, and I thought that sitting during the National Anthem would bring more awareness to this issue and encourage more constructive discussion to find solutions, but I feel I only made things worse. I want to make change in this world, but sitting down during the national anthem just isn’t the best way to do it. With that being said, I do plan on finding a better way. I’m young, and I still have a lot to learn about saying and doing the right thing. For now, I will stay focused on football, but I will definitely look for opportunities to do what I can to prevent injustices. I am so blessed to be an American, and I just feel a responsibility to do what I can to make things better.”

Alex Boone

Former 49er Alex Boone, now with the Vikings, told USA Today: “It’s hard for me, because my brother was a Marine, and he lost a lot of friends over there. That flag obviously gives [Kaepernick] the right to do whatever he wants. I understand it. At the same time, you should have some … respect for people who served, especially people that lost their life to protect our freedom.

“We’re out here playing a game, making millions of dollars. People are losing their life, and you don’t have the common courtesy to do that. That just drove me nuts.”


Boone spoke to a small group of reporters about Kaepernick following the Vikings’ preseason game against San Diego on Sunday, wearing a T-shirt with the name of Chris Kyle on it, the late Navy SEAL veteran portrayed in the movie “American Sniper.”

Asked how he would have handled the situation if he were still with the 49ers, Boone said: “See, I’m a very emotional person. So I think if I had known that, my emotions would’ve been rolling — I think we would’ve had a problem on the sideline.

“And I get that he can do whatever he wants. But there’s a time and a place. Show some respect, and that’s just how I feel.”

Anquan Boldin

Another former 49er, Lions receiver Anquan Boldin, said he supports his ex-teammate.

“I respect everybody’s opinion,” Boldin said. “Everybody has one. I’m sure he’s going to get flak for it, what he did, but that’s the great thing about being in America you have that option.”

Victor Cruz

New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz said: “I think, personally, the flag is the flag. Regardless of how you feel about the things that are going on in America today and the things that are going on across the world with gun violence and things like that, you’ve got to respect the flag and stand up with your teammates. It’s bigger than just you, in my opinion.”


He added: “Colin is his own man. He decided to sit down and sit out, and that’s his prerogative. But from a personal standpoint, I think you have to stand out there with your team and understand that this is a game and understand that what’s going on in the country.”

Malcolm Jenkins

Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said: “I have a lot of friends that served [in the military]. My grandfather served. And this is a country that I love. So, me not standing for the national anthem isn’t really going to get me the results that I want.

“I’d rather be doing something in the community [about the situation]. Talking to people that can actually make some change. That’s just my approach. But everybody’s got their own convictions, and everybody has their own opinions.

“I’m not one to tell [Kaepernick] he’s right or wrong.”

Arian Foster

Miami running back Arian Foster said of Kaepernick’s protest: “I don’t necessarily see that as a solution to anything. This is me talking. This is Arian talking. If that’s what he felt, that’s his form of protest, I support his right to protest. Those are his thoughts, his opinions.


“I understand 100% what he’s doing. He’s frustrated, just like me. He’s just like my brother. He’s just like my cousins out there. He’s frustrated. It’s hard seeing people get murdered and killed without repercussions.”

Austin Seferian-Jenkins

Tampa Bay tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins said: “If you live in America, you have the right to express yourself freely. … But I think if he’s serious about the problem, he should invest in the black community. He should invest in education. He should invest in Oakland. People have been standing up and saying things, but we need action.”


Donald Trump says maybe Colin Kaepernick should find another country

Colin Kaepernick vows to continue sitting during national anthem


Dylan Hernandez: A well-meaning Colin Kaepernick starts a conversation that, sadly, seems headed nowhere


Aug. 31, 7:35 a.m.: This article was updated with quotes from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s op-ed piece in the Washington Post.

Aug. 30, 11:10 a.m.: This article was updated with a tweet from Rodney Harrison and a new statement from Myke Tavarres.

Aug. 30, 10:45 a.m.: This article was updated with comments and tweets from Rodney Harrison.

Aug. 30, 8:20 a.m.: This article was updated with comments from Drew Brees and Richard Sherman.

Aug. 30, 7:30 a.m.: This article was updated with a tweet from Jerry Rice.

1 p.m.: This article was updated with a tweet from Jim Harbaugh.

12:26 p.m.: This article was updated with a comment from Jim Harbaugh.

11:15 a.m.: This article was updated with a comment from Myke Tavarres.

This article was originally published Aug. 29 at 7:45 a.m.