Culture

5 Pointed Responses from Players and Coaches to Trump's Racist Jeremiad Against Black Athletes

The San Antonio Spurs' Gregg Popovich calls the U.S. an "embarrassment to the world."

Photo Credit: YouTube Screengrab

Colin Kaepernick's protest was never about Donald Trump. When he first took a knee during the national anthem as the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers a little more than a year ago, his purpose was to draw attention to the country's systemic racism, from its violent policing and mass incarceration of black bodies to the housing discrimination across its major cities.

“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 told NFL Media after a game against the Green Bay Packers. “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.”

A year later, Kaepernick is out of a job, blackballed by an NFL ownership that is both exorbitantly wealthy and exclusively white. His protest, through no plan of his own, has evolved into something more sweeping if less focused: a referendum on the president himself. During a campaign rally Friday for Alabama Senate hopeful Luther Strange, Trump called any player who kneels during the national anthem a "son of a bitch" who should be fired. He continued his airing of racial grievances over the weekend when he disinvited the NBA champions Golden State Warriors from visiting the White House, citing all-world point guard Steph Curry's hesitation to make the trip. 

Players across the NBA and NFL have responded in kind, voicing their disgust with the president and locking arms in solidarity. Twenty-seven Jacksonville players took a knee during Sunday's game at Wembley Stadium in London, while the Pittsburgh Steelers refused to come out of the tunnel for the national anthem prior to their game, even if quarterback Ben Roethlesberger regrets his decision. And they're not the only ones speaking up.

Here are five of the more thoughtful responses to Trump's racist rhetoric and posturing, from professional athletes and coaches alike.

1. Doug Baldwin

The Seattle Seahawks wide receiver has been one of the most politically active members of the professional sports community. On Sunday, he issued the following statement:

"I’m not surprised by Trump’s comments. He has shown, since the beginning, his dehumanized nature. To think he would be anything different is to not know the reality of his presidency. He has surrounded himself with like minded people and has removed anyone who challenges him. He acts like a child craving attention and any attention will do.

"Although these recent comments are not the worst things he’s said or done, I do believe that this will be a unifying moment for the sports world. And with as much influence as athletes have on the younger generation, this can be an opportunity for us to change the narrative of society and point to the president as a poor example of what you can become if you remain close minded, ignorant and uneducated.

"For all the hate and negativity that has come from Trump’s presidency, I am still hopeful for justice and love to win out. As I continue to my efforts with the youth of our communities and engage with this hatred, I will resist the urge to return hate with hate and instead react in love and compassion for those who simply can not."

He and teammate, Richard Sherman, expanded on their fears about Trump's presidency after their game against the Tennessee Titans:

"It's scary that we have a man in office who was elected to protect our basic rights and yet he has shown recently the opposite," Baldwin said. "A lot of the media can understand because they've gone through similar situations with him. But for us, as players directly being called out about being able to express ourselves, which this great country and many men and women have sacrificed their lives for us to be able to express ourselves in that way.

2. Steve Kerr

The head coach of the Golden State Warriors seemed appalled, if not entirely surprised, that Trump rescinded his invitation to the NBA champions to visit the White House.

“The idea of civil discourse with a guy who is tweeting and demeaning people and saying the things he’s saying is sort of far-fetched. Can you picture us really having a civil discourse with him?” he asked reporters. “It was an actual chance to talk to the president. After all, he works for us. He’s a public servant. He may not be aware of that, but he is a public servant, right? So maybe as NBA champions, as people in a prominent position, we could go in and say, ‘This is what’s bothering us, what can we do about this?'”

Kerr also had some biting words for anybody who takes exception to NFL players exercising their freedom of speech.

“How about the irony of, ‘Free speech is fine if you’re a neo-Nazi chanting hate slogans, but free speech is not allowed to kneel in protest?'” he added. “No matter how many times a football player says, ‘I honor our military, but I’m protesting police brutality and racial inequality,’ it doesn’t matter. Nationalists are saying, ‘You’re disrespecting our flag.’ Well, you know what else is disrespectful to our flag? Racism. And one’s way worse than the other.”

3. LeBron James

It might not have been the first salvo of the professional sports community's response to Trump's bluster, but the four-time NBA champion's tweet, economically calling the president a "bum," was certainly the loudest. As of Monday afternoon, the dig had been retweeted more than 650,000 times:

“The thing that frustrated me and pissed me off is the fact that he used a sports platform to try and divide us,” James continued Monday. “In sports, it’s so amazing what sports can do for everyone no matter what shape or size or race or ethnicity or whatever. People find teams, people find players, people find others because of sport and they just gravitate toward that and it makes them so happy and it brings people together like none other. I’m not going to—while I have this platform—to let one individual no matter the power, no matter the impact that he should or she should have ever use sport as a platform to divide us.”

4. Gregg Popovich

The San Antonio Spurs head coach has been one of the president's most steadfast critics, labeling Trump's election victory, in a word, "disgusting." On Monday, he went so far as to call the United States an "embarrassment to the world," while offering a few trenchant observations on Kaepernick's protest. (It seems safe to assume Popovich may be a reader of Ta-Nehisi Coates):

"There has to be an uncomfortable element in the discourse for anything to change, whether it’s the LGBT movement, or women’s suffrage, race, it doesn’t matter. People have to be made to feel uncomfortable, and especially white people, because we’re comfortable. We still have no clue what being born white means. And if you read some of the recent literature, you realize there really is no such thing as whiteness. We kind of made it up. That’s not my original thought, but it’s true."

5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 

Earnhardt Jr.'s expression of solidarity with NFL players is noteworthy, both for its messaging, and for the racing organization he is freely defying. Over the weekend, multiple NASCAR owners threatened to fire any driver who took a knee during the national anthem, parroting the words of Donald Trump. "Anybody that works for me should respect the country we live in. So many people gave their lives for it," said Richard Petty, a seven-time cup series champion. "This is America."

On Monday, Earnhardt Jr. tweeted simply:

Jacob Sugarman is a managing editor at AlterNet.

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