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CLEVELAND — Back in September, President Donald Trump “withdrew” an invitation for the NBA champion Golden State Warriors to visit the White House after multiple members of the team made it clear that they didn’t want to attend, due to their opposition to the way Trump conducted his presidential campaign and the policies he’s espoused in office. Two days after the NFL champion Philadelphia Eagles were similarly “disinvited” over similar player concerns, Warriors coach Steve Kerr praised those who demonstrate their love of country through actual deeds rather than empty gestures.
As Kerr spoke to reporters during the Warriors’ pre-Game 3 shootaround at Quicken Loans Arena on Wednesday, the reigning WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx were in Washington, D.C., preparing to visit Payne Elementary School for an event helmed by the nonprofit organization Samaritan’s Feet, during which the Lynx’s players would wash the feet of students at the school — 100 percent of whom are considered “low-income” students, and 30 percent of whom are homeless — before giving new socks and new sneakers to all 340 students at the school.
Here’s @MooreMaya washing the feet and giving Jordan brand shoes to kids at Payne Elementary school in SE DC w/ Samaritan’s Feet. @LynxCoachReeve says, “This is patriotism.” pic.twitter.com/yvpUvkelCt
— Lindsay Gibbs (@linzsports) June 6, 2018
The Lynx organized that event on an extra day off during their trip to D.C. to take on the Washington Mystics because, unlike when they won their three previous WNBA championships, this time they never received an invitation to the White House. During Tuesday’s media session between Games 2 and 3 of the 2018 NBA Finals, Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James called it “laughable at this point” that the Trump administration had not invited the Lynx to celebrate their collective achievement.
During his shootaround chat with reporters on Wednesday, Kerr — who has become one of the NBA’s most prominent voices on social and political issues, focusing primarily on the problem of gun violence in America, but also frequently expressing his disagreements with the election, policies and “divisiveness” of Trump — lauded the Lynx for the way they chose to make the most of their time in Washington. He praised them for turning a snub into something special, elevating and unifying, even as the president opts to take a different tack.
“I think what you’re seeing is, and what the athletes are showing, is patriotism through their community service,” Kerr told reporters. “The president is turning all this stuff into a political game, a ratings game, and it’s a blatant display of nationalism. What patriotism is, is helping your fellow citizen. Whether it’s what [Kevin Durant is] doing [by paying the first year of college tuition for several students he’s mentored], or what we did when we visited Washington, or what the Lynx are doing today. That’s what patriotism is about.”
On Tuesday, Kerr had called Trump’s decision to turn the Eagles’ planned visit into a “different type of ceremony” — a “celebration of America” featuring the United States Marine Band and United States Army Chorus — unsurprising.
“I think the president has made it pretty clear he’s going to try to divide us, all of us in this country, for political gain,” Kerr said. “So it’s just the way it is.”
He also highlighted the irony of Trump deciding that the Eagles — a team whose players never knelt in protest last season and who have been “fantastic citizens in their own community,” with the likes of Malcolm Jenkins, Chris Long and others having actually devoted substantial time and money to working toward specific solutions to specific problems — didn’t merit a visit. Kerr emphasized that on Wednesday, too.
“I’m blown away by the irony of the Eagles being disinvited,” he said. “When you read about their good deeds in their communities — Malcolm Jenkins addressing lawmakers about really trying to get to the root of some of the issues we have — and instead, we just have these military sing-alongs at the White House to show how patriotic we are, even though we don’t know the words. It’s just incredible. It is incredible.
— Deadspin (@Deadspin) June 6, 2018
“But I’m really proud of of the people in this country who are recognizing what’s happening,” Kerr added. “instead of turning this into a political game, they’re just trying to do good deeds.”
As the lines between the personal and political grow increasingly blurred — if, in fact, they ever existed — more and more athletes have found themselves taking on greater prominence as advocates on various social issues that are important to them. It’s a drastically different environment than the one Kerr experienced as a player in the 1980s and ’90s, which he chalks up to major, bracing global events that have happened in the intervening years, as well as significant shifts in the way sports, society and the media interact with them and with one another.
“I just think the world changed,” Kerr said when asked about how the eras differ. “I think in the ’90s, we were living in sort of a blissfully ignorant state. We were sort of pre-terrorism, pre-9/11, pre-social media. I think life was a lot simpler, and I think athletes recognize — and people in general realize — there’s a lot of angst and a lot of things to be concerned about and a lot of things that need to be changed, whether it’s school shootings, police brutality. There are so many issues that stand out and that are critical.
“I think people in general, not just athletes, feel the need to do something. We now have the forum to do so. We have a much bigger platform to try to do good, so I’m proud of all the people who do that.”
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