Before the bended knee, there were the praying hands; the hands of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, a former NBA basketball player who had All-star opportunities stripped away from him because of his refusal to stand for the national anthem. Abdul-Rauf is gearing up for the debut of his documentary titled ‘Stand’ on Showtime directed by Joslyn Rose on February 4, 2023.
At a time when political displays in sports were rare, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was noticed by national media for not standing during the star spangled banner. The U.S. national anthem is typically played before every professional sporting event to symbolize a sense of patriotism and representation for American teams. However, once Abdul-Rauf, formerly known as Chris Jackson, had become a Muslim, he realized that for many people, the U.S. flag was a symbol of oppression instead of freedom.
In his recently released autobiography, In the Blink of An Eye, Abdul-Rauf states that he sat down during the national anthem several times before it was noticed. Once noticed however, media outlets caused a frenzy and continuously fired questions to better understand his stance. He says that his teammates on the Denver Nuggets were familiar with his beliefs and controversial ideas, so his attitude towards the U.S. flag and anthem never came as a surprise.
Yet, it seemed that media outlets had an agenda. They insisted he provide an explanation for the action that some deemed disrespectful. Abdul-Rauf indicated that it was one interview which sent his career spiraling, in which he firmly stated to a radio news reporter that the U.S. flag is a symbol of tyranny and oppression. He said that while there is good that exists in America, his faith prohibits him to be neutral when there are blatant wrongdoings.
“There is a verse in the Quran which says Allah didn’t create the human being with two hearts. He only gave us one,” He told the reporter. “You can’t worship God and Satan at the same time.”
Basketball was Abdul-Rauf’s life goal and dream. It was also a means to get his family out of the poverty that plagued many of his childhood years. He grew up living and breathing the game of basketball, and striving to be the best. Despite having Tourette’s Syndrome, it never hindered his ability to play. He was not only a hard-working athlete, but he had talent that was undeniable. He had been scouted from when he was in high school and became an elite college athlete. Schooling was never his strong suit, so he bet most of his future on making it to the NBA.
By the time he was drafted by the Denver Nuggets, it seemed that he had a promising future for his finesse on the court. Though he was not the tallest player on the team, he was a top free throw shooter and a skilled ball handler. He played in an era with some of the greatest basketball legends; the likes of Charles Barkely, Michael Jordan. He even played with one of the best centers Shaquelle O’Neal.
One would think that a young man who had yearned for the dream to earn riches playing for the big leagues would indulge in a party-crazed lifestyle. However, Abdul-Rauf stayed away from all this, as he tried to stay disciplined and uphold the principles of his faith. Abdul-Rauf became a Muslim not too long after reading the Autobiography of Malcolm X. He said it was the one book he could not put down and was left inspired by Malcolm and wanted to continue to educate himself.
In his own book, Abdul-Rauf discusses some of the negative experiences he faced as a Muslim such as the incident when someone refused to call him by his changed name. He also highlighted an occurrence of being questioned by an NBA staffer on why he insisted on praying on time. But, Abdul-Rauf remained steadfast with his convictions.
There was a short time between when anthem-gate made its waves around media platforms and when Abdul-Rauf’s career began to suffer. At first, he was instructed to stand for the flag by top officials in the NBA who threatened his participation in the league. Abdul-Rauf continued to be unwavering. While he agreed to stand, he would open his hands in prayer while the anthem played across the loudspeakers in every arena. Media cameras zeroed in on him and he was heavily broadcasted in the news for this act.
Team politics in Denver continued to get in the way of Abdul-Rauf’s talents. He was traded to the Sacramento Kings. Even on a new team, his playing time dwindled. He says in his book that he slowly started to lose passion and motivation for playing in the NBA. After nine years of inconsistency in the league, he knew it was time to consider a new path. By this point, he had a family of his own, and knew he had to provide for them.
He traveled overseas to play basketball and made a living from that for some time. Today, Abdul-Rauf travels around the world as a motivational guest speaker and talks about his experiences to various groups and organizations. His book was also released recently by Kaepernick Publishing, a publishing house founded by none other than Colin Kaepernick in 2019.
Kaepernick, a former NFL football player for the San Francisco 49ers, was more recently penalized for taking a knee during the national anthem. He, like Abdul-Rauf, also lost his position in the big leagues for refusing to compromise on his beliefs.
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