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Beto O'Rourke's defense of anthem protests draws support from LeBron James

(CNN) A viral video of Democratic Texas Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke discussing protests over racial injustice during the national anthem in the NFL has drawn a wave of praise and commentary from some high-profile athletes, including LeBron James.

James tweeted about the video of O'Rourke from "Now This" news, which credits the footage to Nivien Saleh. As of Thursday morning, the video had more than 12.8 million views and more than 160,000 retweets.

"A Must Watch!!!," James wrote to his 41 million followers. "Salute @BetoORourke for the candid thoughtful words!"

In the four-minute video, O'Rourke fields a question at a Texas town hall about the national anthem protests that have roiled the NFL over the past year. The El Paso Democrat -- who is challenging incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz in November -- explains why he supports the protests, meant to draw attention to racial injustice, and remarking on the similarities between the sacrifices of soldiers and veterans and those of civil rights activists, and saying "I can think of nothing more American" than peaceful protests.

Cruz responded to the O'Rourke video on Thursday, tweeting: "Most Texans stand for the flag, but Hollywood liberals are so excited that Beto is siding with NFL players protesting the national anthem that Kevin Bacon just retweeted it. That means all of us us can now win Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon!"

In addition to LeBron James, a series of other star athletes and pro coaches shared and commented on the video of O'Rourke.

NFL Hall of Fame Quarterback Kurt Warner tweeted, "Every past & present fan of NFL - please listen - I believe he hit the nail on the head & he did so not by dividing the 2 sides but by joining them together in realizing the freedoms of our country have been forged by soldiers but also by many others who have fought in diff ways!"

And NFL Hall of Fame head coach Tony Dungy also weighed in. "If you want some insight into the National Anthem kneeling controversy, watch this. If you've already made up your mind that kneeling is disrespectful and facts and history won't change your mind there's no need to watch."

Pro athletes from other sports also shared the video. Abby Wambach -- a former star of the US Women's National Soccer team, who won both Olympic Gold and a World Cup -- wrote, "No matter where you land on this issue, because I understand it's complicated, please watch this. @BetoORourke is smart, and compassionate, and respectful of all people here. This is what leadership looks like."

Steve Kerr, head coach of the NBA-champion Golden State Warriors, who has a reputation for being outspoken on politics, shared the video as well. "Please watch this and be reminded of what thoughtful leadership looks and sounds like. Thank you @BetoORourke for giving us a glimpse of our future. Things will get better!"

The protests during the anthem -- begun by then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016 -- have happened with varying participation since 2016, pulling the NFL into a public debate that has seen President Donald Trump call on team owners to stem them.

James has also escalated his political engagement over the last couple of years and has been particularly vocal in his criticism of President Trump. Ahead of the NBA Finals in June -- which raised the prospect of a White House visit for the winning team -- James preemptively declared that "no one wants to" visit the Trump White House, and that neither team would attend such a ceremony. Discussing the same topic the previous September, James referred to Trump as "u bum" in a tweet, writing, "Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!"

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