Bill Russell, Medal of Freedom and all, takes a knee 'to stand tall against social injustice'

Bill Russell receives the President Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama in 2010. (AP)
Bill Russell receives the President Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama in 2010. (AP)

Ladies and gentleman, I give you Bill Russell, the greatest winner in sports history and a civil rights activist who turned down the chance to be on stage for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech for fear his presence would distract from the reverend’s plea for racial equality and justice.

It may be the first tweet from an egg avatar with an unverified username, but that is definitely Bill Russell, kneeling, adorned with the Presidential Medal of Freedom he received from Barack Obama in 2010. “Proud to take a knee,” the caption reads, “and to stand tall against social injustice.”

Russell, or whoever runs the Twitter account, has since retweeted this response to someone who felt compelled to tell the NBA legend — an 83-year-old man who has experienced racism since childhood in West Monroe, Louisiana — that the “time and a place to protest … isn’t during the national anthem”:

The original tweet, with Russell kneeling, included the hashtag #takeaknee, a reference to the protest Colin Kaepernick first performed in support of racial equality during the national anthem. And the retweet, citing the “Tiki torches” used by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, was another clear statement that the way to bridge the racial divide in this country is not to remain silent any longer.

Kaepernick’s movement progressed this past weekend, when President Donald Trump referred to athletes who kneel in protest of social injustice during the national anthem as “sons of bitches” who deserve to be fired. Many NFL players responded by kneeling on Sunday, and NBA personnel — from LeBron James to Michael Jordan — followed suit, lambasting the president during media day festivities on Monday.

Russell joined the chorus on Monday as well, and fellow former Boston Celtics big man Bill Walton — the most ardent supporter of his longtime idol — threw his support behind the 11-time NBA champion:

Russell has been a longtime supporter of the civil rights movement. In addition to participating in the March on Washington in 1963, he joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jim Brown and others at the Muhammad Ali Summit in 1967, protesting social injustice around the world. An advocate for mentorship throughout his life, Russell helped establish the Bill Russell Mentoring Grant Program in 2011, when the city of Boston announced a statue honoring his accomplishments on and off the court.

So, Russell’s kneeling photo was just one more win in a lifetime of them.

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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