Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf refused to stand for the national anthem in 1996, an act for which he was fined and suspended.
Colin Kaepernick revived the protest and became the face of it when he knelt during the national anthem 20 years later.
The former NBA player said he met with Kaepernick during the height of Kaepernick’s protests. Despite all the backlash Kaepernick faced, he felt at peace.
“We never talked a lot, but we did meet up in the Bay Area when he was going through what he did,” Abdul-Rauf told TMZ Sports. “We had a mutual friend. We met in like a private office. We spoke for about an hour. We just shared information and, if it resonated, we took it.
“The biggest takeaway for me during that whole night was when he said this is the most freedom he’s ever felt in his life. I said to him, ‘Well, it’s because of this freedom that allows people like yourself and those who came before us and those who’ll come after us to take those risks and do what you did.'”
The two used the national anthem as a protest but for slightly different reasons. Abdul-Rauf said the American flag was a symbol of oppression and that the United States had a long history of tyranny. Kaepernick protested against police brutality and racial inequality in the United States.
Kaepernick last played in the NFL in January 2017. Abdul-Rauf thinks the former San Francisco 49er wants to make a return to the NFL.
“I would imagine he still does because when you grow up like we did, many of us start young. And so we train, and that becomes a life for us. It’s in our DNA. You just don’t turn that off, that competitive spirit, right away. Especially the level that he was playing in.”
Kaepernick took the Niners to Super Bowl XLVII in 2013 but lost to the Baltimore Ravens.