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In the NBA, standing for the national anthem is a rule—not an option

Will the protests happen anyways?


Chris Tognotti


In recent weeks, the NFL has been in the spotlight as players protested social inequality during the national anthem. When it comes to the NBA, however, the league office is reportedly working to make sure no such displays erupt, sending out a memo to all teams and team officials reminding them that standing for the anthem is a rule, not an option.

While there’s no actual rule that states NFL players must stand during the national anthem, there is one for the NBA, which was reiterated by league commissioner Adam Silver last month.

“We have a rule that requires our players to stand for the anthem,” Silver said. “It’s been our rule for as long as I’ve been involved with the league, and my expectation is that our players will continue to stand for the anthem.”

The NBA’s official rule book states as follows:

“Players, coaches and trainers are to stand and line up in a dignified posture along
the sidelines or on the foul line during the playing of the National Anthem.”

The rule last became relevant in the 1990s, when Denver Nuggets star guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf sparked controversy by refusing to stand for the anthem. Unlike former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who refused to stand as a statement against police brutality against black people, Abdul-Rauf really was protesting the flag itself―he specifically referred to it as a “symbol of oppression” for countless people around the world.

He was ultimately suspended for the act. Although he did continue playing afterwards, his career was never quite the same. Now, with the president of the United States openly attacking professional athletes for protesting during the anthem, there’s a clear possibility that the wave of protests that have swept through the NFL could end up reaching the NBA as well, a reckoning the league may not want to deal with.

It’s probably not a coincidence that the major sports stars who have pushed back against Trump most forcefully, and who have embraced protests against racial injustice most openly, have been from the NFL and NBA. Both are predominantly black leagues, accounting for about 70 percent of NFL players, and about 75 percent of NBA players.

Last week, LeBron James called out Trump for attacking Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry on Twitter after Curry said he didn’t want to visit the White House. James said he wouldn’t let Trump use sports to divide the country.

Protests have hit Major League Baseball as well, though the league has the fewest black players since the early 1960s. Oakland A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell recently demonstrated during the national anthem and got booed for it.

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