Craig Hodges, Colin Kaepernick and the dangers of speaking out

One on One
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The story of two-time NBA champion and 3-point champion Craig Hodges bears strong similarities to what is happening to Colin Kaepernick.

Craig Hodges never thought his career was going to end when he was only 32. He was one of the best 3-point shooters in the NBA, won the 3-Point Shootout in 1990, ’91 and ’92, and a well-respected teammate on the back-to-back NBA champion Chicago Bulls.

But the Bulls released him after the 1992 season, and no other NBA team came calling. His NBA career was over.

Hodges traces the end to October 1991. President George H. Bush had invited the Bulls to the White House to celebrate their first NBA championship. Hodges wore a dashiki and wrote a letter highlighting the challenges facing the African-American community, which he personally delivered to the White House press secretary. In Hodges’ view, it was the dashiki that had the biggest impact on his fate. NBA teams decided his talent wasn’t enough to justify the distraction he might cause.

Over 25 years later, Colin Kaepernick may suffer a similar fate after choosing to kneel during the national anthem the entire 2016 NFL season. Many were optimistic Kaepernick would be back in the league this season, but that hope is fading. There are multiple teams in desperate need of quarterback help, but none have turned to Kaepernick. While Kaepernick isn’t an elite player, he’s unquestionably one of the best 60 quarterbacks in the world. The question, as it was for Hodges, is why?

Hodges’ story is told here by his teammates, a reporter who covered the Bulls and Hodges himself. There are differing opinions on why exactly Hodges’ career ended the way it did, but a consensus admiration for the person and teammate Hodges was and is.

Craig Hodges on how he thought his career with the Bulls would end: “I thought I would retire a Bull. I didn’t think me retiring a Bull would be the Bulls cutting me, it would be me actually saying peace Chicago.”

Hodges on what advice he would’ve given Colin Kaepernick about his protest: “Had I known, I would’ve asked him to delay it. I understand from my situation, a love of the sport, a love of the game. And a love of doing something you’re capable of doing for a long period of time. I think he deserves that opportunity, just for the peace of his soul as opposed to whatever dollar amount he could garner.”

Hodges on what he told his students when they asked to kneel last season: “It wasn’t that I want you to not protest, but I want you to know what you are doing. I don’t want it to be a fad. It’s not a fashion plate. This is something that’s serious, people committed themselves to and they died for and a lot of people sacrificed careers.

“At this point in your life, I think it’s more important that you study and read the history of your forefathers and ancestors who were committed to the cause, who stood up whether they were revolutionaries, civil rights leaders, politicians, sports figures, or what have you. But become more mindful and more cultivated in what it is you’re about to speak about so when you open your mouth you know what you’re committed to, and you know there is a consequence to everything you might say.”

Hodges on his upbringing: “I was blessed to have a mom who was heavy in the civil rights movement, as well as my family and community. I had a chance to go away and study at Long Beach State, that had some of the best black study minds in the country. It was always a fire that was lit under me and something that I felt like I could do to enhance the condition of my people.”

Hodges on visiting to the White House: “I was excited about going to Washington D.C. and getting to the chance to go to the White House just as a citizen of America. Getting a chance to go to the people’s house is something I feel like everybody in America should get a chance to do.

“For me, to know I not going just for myself. There was a joy inside of me like a child, but at the same time there was a bigger mission involved and I had to hold my joy as an individual until we did our little thing in the Rose Garden and I told him I had given a letter to his Press Secretary. At that point, the mission was somewhat accomplished. It was just an awesome day, a day I’ll never forget.”

Hodges on needing to sell his championship rings: “It was a matter of this is what I need. I would love to hand it down to my children, all that’s cool. But it ain’t the spirit of it. The spirit of it was going through practice, on the plane, in the locker room. Hoisting the banner was cool. The rings are a part of it, but they’re not all of it.”

Former Bulls forward Horace Grant on Hodges as a teammate: “Hodges and I used to sit on that plane and discuss everything from him being a Muslim, me being a Christian, to the Torah, every other religious aspect that was in this country. We could just diverse with ourselves about things like that.

“And then we would get onto stuff about the inner cities and us as black men, what we need to do to help the inner cities and things of that nature. Our whole plane and bus ride used to be about that a lot of the time. If each team had someone like Craig Hodges and his personality and his heart, meaning his mind and spirit, the world would be a better place because this guy doesn’t just care about the urban cities, he cares about the youth around this planet.”

Grant on Hodges going unsigned: “Back then you don’t think anything of it, because teams over the course of a year or two, some guys are signed back and some guys aren’t. But after a couple years, nobody signed him and you start to really think why? Why is the best 3-point shooter in the NBA not on somebody’s roster?”

Former Bulls center Bill Cartwright on what happened to Hodges: “I think a good word would be suspicious. We had one of the better shooters on the planet.

“Let’s call it for what it is, it’s a situation where probably not a lot of owners and [general managers] didn’t want to deal with anything controversial. They would rather just ignore it.”

Cartwright on Hodges as a player and teammate: “He not only was a great player, great shooter, he says the best shooter on the planet and who am I to argue. But just as a teammate, great person, great friend. Spent a lot of time with him off the court, he was a good guy.”

Cartwright on Hodges giving the White House press secretary the letter: “I just thought that was more being Craig. But what’s interesting about that, Craig was the only one to get the President Bush’s autograph on a basketball. So even though he wore his robe, he was the only one to get an autograph.

“So it’s a little interesting, we didn’t view it as anything other than him being who he was, because he is such a wonderful guy.”

Former Bulls guard BJ Armstrong on Hodges as a player and teammate: “Craig was a great teammate and I was able to learn from the older guys and Craig had been in the league and had success. He was a pro, a pro’s pro.”

Armstrong on Hodges wearing a dashiki: “I didn’t have a problem then and I don’t have a problem with it now. The diversity within our culture is very diverse. Craig was very respectful, considerate and he was very thoughtful. The fact that Craig was a practicing Muslim wasn’t a big thing to me. The fact that Craig was very respectful in how he conducted himself, in how he respected other cultures, people, teammates, family, I don’t understand what was the big deal.”

Armstrong on Hodges’ departure from the league: “My thought then and my thought now are exactly the same, this is a business. This is the business of sports that we’ve all chosen. I didn’t need an explanation into asking questions. That’s the business that we’re in. Every athlete will experience that in some form or fashion, whether it comes in year one when you’re cut from the team, or year five when you have an injury, or in year 12 or 13 when it is time for you to retire.”

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