By Les Carpenter/Washington
Whether they knew it or not the Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans were following a plan drawn by college basketball’s greatest coach when they refused to come onto the field for the national anthem on Sunday. Nearly 50 years ago, John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, winner of 10 national championships, kept his teams in the locker room during the anthem to support his players’ stands against racial intolerance.
Wooden, who died in 2010 at the age of 99, was beloved in the sports world – heralded as a brilliant teacher. His pyramid of success, built on the concepts of faith and patience, used concepts like poise, self-control, friendship, loyalty and co-operation to build greatness. His methods are still taught in corporate America. No one would accuse the genius Wooden of showing disrespect to the flag as President Donald Trump has done to NFL players who also refused to stand for the national anthem.
But long before Colin Kaepernick, Wooden’s UCLA Bruins had a player who would not stand for the anthem. His name was Lew Alcindor, later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Then college basketball’s best player and later a six-time NBA Most Valuable Player, he converted to Islam before his senior season and began sitting during the anthem much like Kaepernick has done to protest the treatment of African Americans in the US.
Mindful of Abdul-Jabbar’s stand, Wooden stopped bringing the Bruins on the court for the anthem. It’s something he continued for years after Abdul-Jabbar left for the NBA.
“We were aware of (the anthem author) Francis Scott Key being racist,” Marques Johnson, a UCLA star in the mid-1970s told the Guardian last year in describing Wooden’s decision to keep them off the court. “We knew about the missing third stanza that criticises the slaves who joined the British army so they could be free. I think we were aware of all that.”
If the great Wooden could continue winning national titles while holding his players away from the anthem what’s to keep NFL teams from not doing the same?
On Sunday, two days after Trump’s address, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll responded with a statement of his own.
“We stand for love and justice and civility,” Carroll said. “We stand for our players and their constitutional rights, just as we stand for equality for all people.”
When neither the Seahawks nor the Titans came onto the field for their game – eventually won by Tennessee – it made for a surreal sight.
The stands were filled, a colour guard stood at the 30-yard line but the sidelines, normally loaded with players and coaches, were empty. In some ways, it was a more effective protest than those conducted by other teams whose players linked arms with coaches, and in some cases, the club owners.
Will other teams do what so many colleges did when Wooden kept UCLA in the locker room and follow Pittsburgh, Seattle and Tennessee in remaining in the locker room? Given the fact this weekend’s protests were the strongest yet since Kaepernick began sitting or kneeling last year, it seems likely Sunday’s stances might be the new normal in the NFL for some time.
According to the Seattle Times, the Seahawks chose to stay inside during the anthem to do something as a team after considering kneeling as a group and holding a flag at half-mast. When asked on Sunday, if the Seahawks will continue their protest next week, star cornerback Richard Sherman replied: “With the president, what’s next? Your guess is as good as mine.”
But if they choose to stay off the field again remember they are doing nothing different from the man considered to be college basketball’s best coach ever. – Guardian News and Media
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