DETROIT -- Add LeBron James to the chorus of Colin Kaepernick supporters in the sports world who believe the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback is being blackballed by the NFL because of his role in popularizing player protests before games.
"I love football, but I'm not part of the NFL," James told ESPN following the Cleveland Cavaliers' practice Sunday. "I don't represent the NFL. I don't know their rules and regulations. But I do know Kap is getting a wrong doing. I do know that. Just watching, he's an NFL player. He's an NFL player and you see all these other quarterbacks out there and players out there that get all these second and third chances that are nowhere near as talented as him. It just feels like he's been blackballed out of the NFL. So, I definitely do not respect that."
Kaepernick signed a six-year, $126 million extension with the Niners in June 2014, a season after throwing for 302 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception and rushing for an additional 62 yards and a touchdown in San Francisco's 34-31 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII. He opted out of his contract in March and has been sidelined ever since while more than 40 quarterbacks have received NFL contracts during that time span.
"The only reason I could say he's not on a team is because the way he took a knee," James said. "That's the only reason. I watch football every Sunday, every Thursday, every Monday night. I see all these quarterbacks -- first-string, second-team, third-team quarterbacks -- that play sometimes when the starter gets hurt or are starters that play. Kap is better than a lot of those guys. Let's just be honest."
Earlier in the week, James shared the latest cover of GQ on his Instagram account. Kaepernick, who is on the cover, was named the magazine's citizen of the year.
And on Cavs media day in September, James declared he wished he owned an NFL team, because "I'd sign him today."
James' comments Sunday, spoken at famed Cass Technical High School in Detroit -- the alma mater of many prominent African-American performers including Diana Ross and Della Reese -- were as pointed as anything he has said on the subject of Kaepernick and his role in shedding light on the injustices facing minorities in the United States.
"I've commended Kap, and for him to sacrifice everything for the greater good for everyone, for what he truly believed in, the utmost respect to him," James continued. "Obviously he had a vision like Martin Luther King and like some of our all-time greats that people couldn't see further than what they were doing at the point and time. And Muhammad Ali and things of that nature. When it's something that's new and it's something that people are not educated about or don't understand what your beliefs are all about, people are so quick to judge, and people are so quick to say that what you're doing is wrong. For him to sacrifice the sport that he plays and to sacrifice the things he's done his whole life because he knew what he believed in, I salute him. I salute and respect that."
James said he has not been in touch with Kaepernick personally, but has noticed the charitable donations that the 30-year-old has made to back up his cause. The NFL players' union recently honored Kaepernick as its "Community MVP" for already donating $900,000 of his pledged $1 million goal in the past year to various charities that focus on social development.
"I've seen him go all over the world and not only lend his voice, lend his money, lend his perspective of what he believes in," said James, the recipient of the J. Walter Citizenship Award, presented by the Pro Basketball Writers Association last season.
His LeBron James Family Foundation has placed more than 1,000 students in its "I Promise" program in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, which provides support to at-risk children to aid in their pursuit of education.
On Saturday, James and several of his Cavs teammates attended Jay-Z's concert at Little Caesars Arena as part of the artist's "4:44" tour, named after his latest album. Jay-Z has also shown support for Kaepernick, donning his black No. 7 jersey during a performance on "Saturday Night Live's" season premiere in September. Jay-Z's new album includes the track "The Story of O.J.," which details the experience of African-Americans being dismissed as nothing more than a derogatory term in the U.S. no matter what type of success they achieve.
"It should resonate with every black person in the world, especially in the United States, though," James said of the song. "Just the injustice of what's going on, and it painted a picture of the whole 'don't judge a book by its cover' type issue that we got to go through. So, having a mentor and a big brother and a family member like Jay has always been key to my success and key to me being as great as I can be. He broke the mold, and I always just try to learn from him and try to give back to him and give him inspiration as well."
James declined to comment on a tweet by Peter Vecsey, a longtime NBA columnist who was honored by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009 with its most prestigious media award. Vecsey used the same racial slur referenced in Jay-Z's song in a tweet this week while responding to the confrontation James got into with the New York Knicks' Enes Kanter in the Cavs' win at Madison Square Garden. Vecsey was quoting a Notorious B.I.G. lyric.
However, James did speak in general terms about the discrimination he faces despite his elevated spot in society as an NBA superstar and business owner.
"I mean, s---, when you're born black, you're faced with discrimination," James said. "It just comes with the territory. So our whole life we're just trying to figure out ways how we can represent our family, represent us, be as powerful as we can be not only as African-American males, but African-American women as well. That's why we're so strong, and that's why we're so prideful about what we believe in, because when we're born, we're already born behind the eight ball. When you're born African-American, you always got to do things more than the norm just because you're black. So when you go through that, you got to understand that. And me being African-American myself and raising an African-American family and having African-American people around me all the time, we understand that we have to work even extra hard because there's just always a 'prove' thing. We always got to try to prove ourselves."