Though Gregg Popovich has a reputation for being a man of few words in front of reporters, he’s occasionally willing to reveal his intellectual curiosity and awareness to the world at large.
The latest example: his comments on Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protests. Here’s a snippet of what Popovich said during the Spurs’ media day on Monday:
"I absolutely understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, and I respect their courage for what they’ve done. The question is whether it will do any good or not because it seems that change really seems to happen through political pressure, no matter how you look at it. Whether it’s Dr. [Martin Luther] King getting large groups together and boycotting buses, or what’s happened in Carolina with the NBA and other organizations pulling events to make it known what’s going on. But I think the important thing that Kaepernick and others have done is to keep it in the conversation. When’s the last time you heard the name Michael Brown? With our 24/7 news, things seem to drift. We’re all trying to just exist and survive.
Other NBA figures have spoken thoughtfully when asked about Kaepernick’s actions. Carmelo Anthony, who helped begin the discussion with his activism all summer, said he has spoken to Kaepernick about how to take the "next step" to help disenfranchised communities. Warriors coach Steve Kerr hit the nail on the head when he said that "every American" should be "disgusted" by recent police-related shootings. Many players have echoed similar sentiments.
Popovich — who served five years in the Air Force and is about to take over as the coach of the U.S. men’s national team — captured a high level of nuance with his comments. In the span of a few sentences, he legitimized Kaepernick’s methods and offered a way to push the issue forward, but didn’t downplay the significance of starting the conversation. He referenced his own ignorance with the fear African Americans must face every day, but didn’t use it as an excuse to say or do nothing. He decried the lack of civility in U.S. discourse, but didn’t default to empty "All Lives Matter" rhetoric that delegitimizes the actual issues.
Most importantly, Popovich said he won’t tell his team how they should act:
"My players are engaged citizens who are fully capable of understanding what their values are, and what they think is appropriate and inappropriate, and what they feel strongly about. Whatever actions may or may not be taken are their decisions, and I’m not going to tell anyone ahead of time that if they don’t do A, B and C, they’re going to be gone or traded. I think that’s ignorant."
You really need to read the entire transcript posted by the San Antonio Express-News’ Melissa Rohlin. Maybe Popovich really should run for president, as one reporter suggested.
* * *