Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James has been closely following the NFL player protests against inequality during the national anthem, and on Sunday, he voiced his opinion on one of the protest’s most visible figures.
Speaking to reporters, James — perhaps the NBA’s best player — said that the only reason former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is not on an NFL roster right now is because he has been a leader of the movement among players who kneel during the anthem to draw attention to police brutality and racism faced by black Americans.
“The only reason I could say he’s not on a team is because the way he took a knee. That’s the only reason,” James said. “I watch football every Sunday, every Thursday, every Monday night. I see all these quarterbacks — first-string, second-team, third-team quarterbacks — that play sometimes when the starter gets hurt or are starters that play. Kap is better than a lot of those guys. Let’s just be honest.”
Kaepernick, along with Eric Reid, was one of the first players to start kneeling, had signed a six-year, $126 million contract extension with the 49ers in June 2014, a season after leading the team to Super Bowl XLVII. Following a shakeup in the 49ers coaching staff, a struggling Kaepernick opted out of his contract in March 2016 after a year of national anthem protests.
Despite plenty of teams needing quarterbacks, he has yet to receive a contract, while 30 other quarterbacks — many with worse stats than Kaepernick — received one. Since then, Kaepernick as focused on his fitness, various charities and a lawsuit against the NFL. Still, Kaepernick’s stats speak to his being just as, if not more, capable than some current starters and many backups.
Many, like James, believe that none of the team owners want to take Kaepernick because of his decision to protest — in other words, he’s being blackballed for standing up to injustice in a peaceful way — especially after President Donald Trump railed against him during a campaign rally, calling him a “son of a bitch.”
James was emphatic of his support for Kaepernick, and place him in esteemed company when it comes to social justice-focused activists and athletes:
“I’ve commended Kap, and for him to sacrifice everything for the greater good for everyone, for what he truly believed in, the utmost respect to him. Obviously he had a vision like Martin Luther King and like some of our all-time greats that people couldn’t see further than what they were doing at the point and time. And Muhammad Ali and things of that nature. When it’s something that’s new and it’s something that people are not educated about or don’t understand what your beliefs are all about, people are so quick to judge, and people are so quick to say that what you’re doing is wrong. For him to sacrifice the sport that he plays and to sacrifice the things he’s done his whole life because he knew what he believed in, I salute him. I salute and respect that.”