Steve Kerr is just one of 30 NBA coaches that will enter this season’s training camp with a new, possibly daunting, task. The league’s players will no doubt feel compelled to emulate the precedent set by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, as an extension of their First Amendment rights, and either sit through or kneel during the rendition of the ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ that plays before each NBA game.
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Though the initial discussions as to how to handle such a league-wide protest may indeed prove taxing in the interim for coaches, the end result should hopefully prove to be freeing and worthwhile, as more and more discussion takes place regarding the impetus behind the wave of protests sprouting up in the wake of the shooting deaths of black men at the hands of local law enforcement.
Kerr, in his introductory press conference with his team on Wednesday, thankfully did not hold back in the days following the shooting death of Terence Crutcher:
“No matter what side of the spectrum you’re on, I would hope that every American is disgusted with what is going on around the country. And it just happened two days ago in Tulsa, with Terence Crutcher. It doesn’t matter what side you’re on with the Kaepernick stuff, you’d better be disgusted by the things that are happening.”
“We will absolutely talk about it as a team before our first game … ,” Kerr said during pre-training camp media availability at the Warriors’ training facility in Oakland, California, on Wednesday. “I talked to some of the guys, and [they asked], ‘What does it mean to you?’ I’ve kind of given them my opinion. We’ve shared thoughts. That’s kind of the way we do things around here.
“We like to talk about stuff, basketball or not. It’s probably one of the best things that’s come out of the Kaepernick issue is that people are talking about it. It’s a good thing.”
Sharing similar sentiments, the league and its players union released a joint statement on Wednesday acknowledging the likelihood of upcoming protests, and their representative side in establishing an initial dialogue regarding how to handle each player’s individual response:
— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpearsESPN) September 22, 2016
Also on Wednesday, respected Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti encouraged an open forum as his team sets to align for its training camp:
“Obviously it’s a topic and an important topic,” Presti said. “Our viewpoint on it is obviously we’ve had players and staff stand for the National Anthem over the past eight years. We’d love to see that continue.
“At the same time, our players have the opportunity and ability to express themselves as people, and we respect that above all.”
Famously, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was suspended for a game in 1996 for refusing to stand during the National Anthem. The Denver Nugget guard considered the flag a “symbol of oppression, of tyranny,” and had sat through the anthem for a large chunk of the 1995-96 season before media and the league itself noticed his silent protest. For the rest of his NBA career, following the suspension, Abdul-Rauf stood during the anthem while praying into cupped hands.
It was a compromise, something the league and its players will have to come to an agreement (however fluid) on should dozens of players choose to kneel (as expected) during the Anthem this season. To date, the NBA has not changed its official stance on standing at attention through ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ something some NBA players will do in upwards of 100-plus times a year from exhibition season until the playoffs.
The Indiana Fever, in its lone WNBA postseason game on Wednesday, decided to kneel during its home arena’s rendition of the Anthem:
As expected, those who haven’t bothered to educate themselves regarding the impetus behind the step-down reacted brusquely:
He seems nice. pic.twitter.com/fpBoi5K9Bg
— Gregg Doyel (@GreggDoyelStar) September 22, 2016
(Doyel also relayed but then deleted a tweet from an Indiana Pacers season ticket holder, announcing that he would cancel his season ticket order in the wake of the Fever’s protest.)
With but a few weeks to go before exhibition NBA games, and a month to go before the nationally-televised start to the season, there is still plenty of time for all involved to learn more, discuss more, engage with those with whom they wouldn’t typically, and intelligently express feelings both raw and measured in hopes that we’ll all become smarter and stronger as a collective unit.
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