(Reuters) - LeBron James said on Monday he supports athletes who have chosen to protest racial inequality during performances of the U.S. national anthem but the NBA’s most famous player has no plans to follow in their footsteps.
NFL backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers started a controversial movement when he chose to stay seated, and then later opted to kneel, for the national anthem this season and many others have since copied the gesture.
“I‘m all in favor of anyone - athlete or non-athlete - being able to express what they believe in a peaceful manner,” James said at the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Media Day. “And that’s exactly what Colin Kaepernick is doing, and I respect that.”
The silent protests have angered some fans, who see it as disrespectful to the U.S. flag, and set off a debate about race relations, policing and the mixing of politics and sports.
James, who earlier this year was ranked third on Forbes’ list of the world’s highest-paid athletes of 2016, said he will be standing when the “Star-Spangled Banner” is played ahead of his team’s preseason opener on Oct. 5.
”Standing for the national anthem is something I will do,“ said James. ”That’s who I am, that’s what I believe in, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect and don’t agree with what Colin Kaepernick is doing.
“You have the right to voice your opinion, stand for your opinion and (Kaepernick‘s) doing it in the most peaceful way I’ve ever seen someone do something.”
Most Americans think Kaepernick is being unpatriotic but support his right to free speech, while nearly half do not think the NFL should penalize him, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released this month.
James said Kaepernick should not be cast in a negative light for his method of protest during the NFL’s 2016 season and blasted the quarterback’s detractors.
“What I do not like about the situation is the negative attention that has been thrown upon him from certain people, because it’s not deserved,” said James.
“He was very educated, very smart, very candid, and very demanding about what he wanted to do, and he didn’t ask anybody else to join him.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto. Editing by Steve Keating