San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich isn't exactly shy about sharing his opinions on a wide variety of topics, from cameramen along the baseline to his team's relative firmness, on the shifting sands in the coaching profession, and a whole host of other basketball-related matters. He's recently shown a bit more willingness to offer his thoughts on non-hoops issues, too, famously comparing this fall's 16-day U.S. government shutdown to "children fighting over their toys."
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Before the Spurs' Friday night win over the visiting Golden State Warriors — the first game that saw players and coaches wear special warmups and lapel pins as part of the NBA's annual Hoops for Troops initiative — the Air Force Academy graduate and former intelligence officer-in-training offered his perspective on how the U.S. does, and does not, honor those who serve. From Mike Monroe at the San Antonio Express-News:
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, a 1970 graduate of the Air Force Academy who served five years, endorsed the [Hoops for Troops] program but admonished the general public to remember veterans beyond the holiday. He also called on government leaders not to cut benefits to the families of veterans in need.
“In a lot of ways, it's a joyous day if we all remember it to honor people,” Popovich said. “But in some ways, it's a sad day. They don't really get honored the way they should be. A lot of it is just pablum, but when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of what they need, they're really not getting everything.
“How many vets and their families might have to do without food stamps because of what's going on? That program is huge to a lot of these families, I mean huge. It gets them through. And it may or may not be there because government's not very functional at this point.
“It's a day to reflect and honor and also not lose sight of the fact that a whole lot more has to be done with what they've done for all of us.”
The program to which Popovich refers is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which recently underwent $5 billion in budget cuts as funding included in the 2009 federal stimulus package expired. The cuts went into effect on Nov. 1, and could impact as many as 48 million Americans, according to Elizabeth Barber of the Christian Science Monitor:
The impact that the funding curtailment will have on people receiving benefits will depend on household size. For a family of four receiving a maximum food stamp allotment, benefits will decrease from $668 to $632 per month, a decrease of $36, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said.
The cuts come at a time when more Americans are on food stamps than at almost any other point in the past decade. In fiscal year 2006, about a year before the recession, the number of people on food stampswas about 26,000. As of this July, the most recent month for which data are available, almost 48 million people are enrolled in the program, or about a seventh of the US population.
The Pentagon estimates that 5,000 troops and their families are being impacted by the SNAP cuts, according to USA TODAY's Tom Vanden Brook:
For the military, the benefit goes primarily to young troops with families. For example, an Army private with no dependents and fewer than two years experience is paid $40,400, including allowances for housing and food. That soldier does not pay taxes on the food and housing stipends.
Popovich has spent the better part of the last 25 years with the Spurs, a team whose hometown is sometimes called “Military City U.S.A.,” as it's home to Joint Base San Antonio, a military site that consists of an Army post (Fort Sam Houston) and two Air Force bases (Randolph and Lackland). The Spurs recently estimated that more than 300,000 active and retired military members and government employees reside in San Antonio.
The significant military presence in the Spurs' fan base led the team to design and create special camouflage alternate uniforms, which San Antonio will debut on Wednesday against the Washington Wizards. That home game will begin a series of "USAA Salute Night games" hosted by the Spurs, for which the USAA will offering up to a 40 percent discount on tickets to active military and veterans.
One of Popovich's former players, Hall of Fame center and U.S. Navy Reserve veteran David Robinson, was scheduled to join President Barack Obama in laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday.
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