NEW YORK – Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback whose NFL career was cut short after he knelt in protest during the national anthem, would still have a job if he were a basketball player, according to former NBA commissioner David Stern.
Speaking on the “Bloomberg Business of Sports” podcast, Stern said that public criticism, particularly from President Donald Trump, may be weighing on NFL owners. It’s different for the NBA, which has made a priority of letting players promote and express themselves, he said.
“As we were digging out of a terrible hole for us — in the late ’70s and ’80s, when there was a fair amount of racism exhibited about players — we felt as a matter of policy we had to promote our players and show that they were real people,” he said during the podcast, which will air on Feb. 18. “And it worked.”
Kaepernick hasn’t played since 2016, the same year he started kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial inequality and police brutality. While Kaepernick remains controversial among some fans — and he’s currently suing the NFL — there’s little debate that the 31-year-old has the talent to play in a league that is starved for healthy quarterbacks.
Stern said that Kaepernick should have been suspended by the NFL when he first began kneeling, and if he had been, his career would have been able to continue.
That’s how Stern handled the major anthem scandal of his 30-year tenure as commissioner. The league had an anthem policy — predating Stern — that required players to stand. It was challenged in the mid-1990s when Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf refused to come out of the locker room before a game for the anthem, saying he felt it was a symbol of oppression.
Stern suspended Abdul-Rauf for a game — including a fine of almost $32,000 — and they eventually reached an agreement that allowed him to stand for the anthem with his head bowed in prayer. Stern’s successor, Adam Silver, revisited the anthem issue at the end of last season. Amid all the public discussion of the NFL and Kaepernick, he reiterated that the NBA’s policy wouldn’t change.
Stern believes that the fans who were most outraged about Kaepernick’s protest are passionate enough about the NFL that they wouldn’t leave if he signed with a new team.