Discussions of Intersectionality Are Lacking In Sports

Manas Malik, Contributing Writer

Twenty years before Colin Kaepernick’s protest of the national anthem ignited a conversation about racial injustice and patriotism, NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf sparked a similar controversy by sitting during the anthem as a protest in defense of Islam. Both Kaepernick and Abdul-Rauf have equated the U.S. flag with a history of tyranny and oppression. What was initially intended as a personal clearing of conscience for Abdul-Rauf turned into a public fiasco, while Kaepernick’s protest was purposefully public. Abdul-Rauf, who protested the same anthem in a similar fashion, was blacklisted from the NBA while Kaepernick saw his jersey sales soar. Even though the method of protest was similar, Abdul-Rauf’s affiliation with Islam had added another dimension of controversy that prevented his message from spreading.

The riot theory suggests that the level of radicalization in an individual required to join a movement decreases as the movement increases in size. In the ‘90s, it was largely uncharacteristic for athletes to be political, to avoid the financial pitfalls of polarization. Michael Jordan recently broke his silence with an open statement decrying racial injustice and a $2 million dollar donation to organizations designed to tackle racial injustice as social justice movements have become more mainstream.

Therefore, as popular opinion becomes more progressive with movements such as Black Lives Matter, athletes can express themselves more freely without threatening the success of their brand. Kaepernick will face no punishment from the NFL and has retained all of his endorsements. In contrast, Abdul-Rauf was “rioting” in isolation, suggesting higher levels of relative radicalness. So it comes as no surprise that Abdul-Rauf was condemned by the media, while Kaepernick kindled inspiration and anger in equal measure.

Religion adds a new level of abstraction to an already unpalatable discussion about racial tension. Even pre-9/11, Muslims were categorically viewed negatively by Americans. While Kaepernick was acting in a broad societal context, Abdul-Rauf’s protest was deeply personal. He acted without vocal contemporaries or a popular movement like Kaepernick did. Abdul-Rauf’s Islamic faith made it more difficult for the general public to digest his core message, thus inhibiting the growth of the discussion. But the reach of a protest should not be its only marker for success.


Abdul-Rauf, to this day, says he does not regret his actions. In standing steadfastly by his Islamic faith, Abdul-Rauf rubbed many the wrong way — even his teammates wished he was still Chris Jackson, “that Baptist boy from Mississippi.” As political polarization increases, it becomes more important that we empathize. Abdul-Rauf’s legacy as a lone individual rather than an inspiring role-model serves as a reminder of the difficulties of achieving intersectionality.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

Email Manas Malik at [email protected]



  1. Manas writes, “Both Kaepernick and Abdul-Rauf have equated the U.S. flag with a history of tyranny and oppression. ”

    “Tyranny and oppression?” Really?

    And how would you describe Islam’s international role throughout it’s history? I mean let’s not pretend that the black slave trade was first practiced by Muslims and is still legal in a couple of Muslim countries. Let’s not forget that Muslim slave traders (and this is even true today) have been more active than European or other white slave traders. It is easy to Google Muslim slave traders active today selling women and children in open markets.

    And let’s not forget how Muslims viciously destroyed Sudan in the 1990s, leaving piles of dead bodies, millions of refugees and thousands of gang-raped women lying in their wake.

    And let’s not forget what Muslims are doing to the Christian community today in Nigeria in the Muslim jihad against that country.

    And let’s not forget the tens of millions of Hindus killed by Muslims during the Muslim millennium long jihad against the Hindus and Buddhists of South Asia.

    And what of the Berbers of North Africa? How many tens of millions of Berbers were slaughtered in Islam’s conquest of that region. Now countries like Algeria are 100% Muslim without one single Berber left alive.

    And Afghanistan? Once home to a flourishing Buddhist civilization is now a 100% pure Muslim country, devoid of any and all non-Muslims.

    And then there is the home of Islam…Saudi Arabia. A country that was once home to Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Assyrians and others. Today Saudi Arabia is 100% Muslim and women are treated like chattel.

    So you can accuse America of having a tainted history – and America does have this – but when compared to your people’s history we look pearly white by comparison.


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