LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and NFL legend Jim Brown sprang to the defence of Colin Kaepernick as the furore over the San Francisco 49ers quarterback s national anthem boycott raged on Tuesday.
Kaepernick ignited a firestorm of controversy over his refusal to stand up for the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner” before a pre-season game against Green Bay last Friday.
The 49ers star said he had sat down during the anthem as a protest aimed at drawing attention to the plight of blacks in America.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump was among the latest to join in criticism of Kaepernick on Monday, describing the player s protest as “a terrible thing.”
“Maybe he should find a country that works better for him, let him try, it s not gonna happen,” Trump said in a radio interview.
But Kaepernick won support from two of the most respected elder statesmen of American sport, Abdul-Jabbar and Brown, longtime civil rights advocates.
“He s doing just what Thomas Jefferson said should be done — to speak out,” Abdul-Jabbar told CNN.
“Maybe people don t like his style or his timing, but he is trying to call attention to issues that are important to him, and I think he has the right to do that.”
In a separate opinion piece in The Washington Post, Abdul-Jabbar placed Kaepernick s anthem boycott in the historical context of sporting protests dating back to Muhammad Ali s refusal to fight in the Vietnam War and the clenched fist salutes of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympic Games.
“What should horrify Americans is not Kaepernick s choice to remain seated during the national anthem, but that nearly 50 years after 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,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote.
“Failure to fix this problem is what s really un-American here.”
Meanwhile, NFL great Brown said he was with Kaepernick “100 percent.”
“I listened to him and he makes all the sense in the world. He s within his rights and he s telling the truth as he sees it,” Brown said on the NFL Network. “I am with him 100 percent.”
The 49ers and NFL have said that while they encourage standing for the anthem, there are no rules against it. Kaepernick is not expected to be disciplined.
The 49ers quarterback on Sunday said he would continue his protest, with San Francisco s next game coming at San Diego on Thursday in a pre-season match against the Chargers.
San Diego is home to a large population of US military personnel and the Chargers pre-season game will feature a “Salute to the Military.”
Kaepernick however has said he will not be deterred from sitting out the anthem once again while insisting he retained “great respect” for service personnel.
“I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country,” Kaepernick told the San Francisco Chronicle.
“And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody.”