Speaking on the Bloomberg Business of Sports podcast (h/t Eben Novy-Williams and Scott Soshnick of Bloomberg), Stern said Kaepernick would still be in the NFL if the league had suspended him when he first began protesting during the national anthem.
Stern did note NFL owners may be avoiding Kaepernick to steer clear of public criticism, especially since President Donald Trump has frequently brought up player protests during the national anthem since he took office.
Kaepernick began protesting during the national anthem in 2016 when he was a member of the San Francisco 49ers. He explained to NFL.com's Steve Wyche the choice to protest stemmed from a desire to bring awareness to systemic racism throughout the country.
"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick said. "To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."
Since the end of the 2016 season, Kaepernick has gone unsigned by all 32 NFL teams. The 31-year-old is in the midst of a collusion grievance against the league.
Per ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert, the NBA has a rule stating "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 last NBA player to violate the policy was Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. He was suspended one game in March 1996 for refusing to come out of the locker room during the anthem.