San Antonio Spurs head coach and president Gregg Popovich hasn’t held back in his criticism of Donald Trump over the lasts year or so.
After Trump’s election in November 2017 Pop said he was “sick to his stomach” at the results and has offered a couple of putdowns since Trump took office.
A few years ago, in 2017 to be exact, Popovich spoke to the media during Spurs media day about his distrust of Trump’s presidency. At first he spoke about his team, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker’s then-injury, but then he went on to address Trump, white supremacy in America, the intersection of sports and politics, and what he tells his players about voicing their own opinions.
And he wasn’t wrong about anything.
Popovich spoke eloquently and analytically for over 21 minutes, taking on each subject carefully but holding no punches when it came to voicing his opinion. First, he addressed the issue of race in America and how certain people refuse to accept that there is inequality in our country,
“Obviously, race is the elephant in the room and we all understand that. Unless it is talked about constantly, it’s not going to get better. ‘Oh, they’re talking about that again. They pulled the race card again. Why do we have to talk about that?’ Well, because it’s uncomfortable. There has to be an uncomfortable element in the discourse for anything to change, whether it’s the LGBT movement, or women’s suffrage, race, it doesn’t matter.”
He went on to talk about the cultural construction of whiteness,
“People have to be made to feel uncomfortable, and especially white people, because we’re comfortable. We still have no clue what being born white means. And if you read some of the recent literature, you realize there really is no such thing as whiteness. We kind of made it up. That’s not my original thought, but it’s true.”
Popovich then transitioned into the advantages of being white in America and how a large segment of our population refuses to accept this as fact,
“It’s hard to sit down and decide that, yes, it’s like you’re at the 50-meter mark in a 100-meter dash. You’ve got that kind of a lead, yes, because you were born white. You have advantage that are systemically, culturally, psychologically rare. And they’ve been built up and cemented for hundreds of years. But many people can’t look at it that way, because it’s too difficult. It can’t be something that’s on their plate on a daily basis. People want to hold their position, people want their status quo, people don’t want to give that up. Until its given up, it’s not going to be fixed.”
And as for his own players voicing their political opinions, Popovich is fully down with that. He told the media,
“Each one of them has the right and ability to say what they would like to say, and act the way they’d like to act. They have our full support and no matter what they might want to do or not do is important to them, respected by us, and there’s no recrimination no matter what might take place, unless it’s ridiculous egregious. There’s a line for everything. But we do live in a difficult time and it doesn’t do a whole lot of good …”
Ultimately, Popovich called our country an embarrasment and directed his ire at the commander-in-chief,
“Our country’s an embarrassment to the world. This is an individual who actually thought that when people held arms during the game, that they were doing it to honor the flag. That’s delusional. Absolutely delusional. But it’s what we have to live with.”
Over the last couple months we’ve heard a lot of people yelling “stick to sports” and bemoaning the inescapable coming together of sports, politics, and race in recent times. First of all, these things are inexorably linked. You can’t avoid the presence of politics and race in sports, doing otherwise is willful ignorance.
Popovich’s words here are an excellent example of why it’s important to acknowledge the intersections of these things. While he’s probably the greatest basketball coach of all-time, he’s also an incredibly powerful brain outside of his expertise.
This is a dude who graduated from the Air Force with a degree in Soviet Studies, then served for five years active duty, spending time in the Balkans and the Soviet Union. It’s sad that the head coach of the San Antonio Spurs is exponentially more qualified, intelligent, and eloquent than the dude actually leading our country, but that’s just where we are as a country right now.
It’s also notable to see the difference in reaction between NFL and NBA coaches. Many NFL teams, who were directly attacked by the president, offered bland statements about unity and supporting their players’ right to protest, but NBA coaches like Popovich, Steve Kerr, and Stan Van Gundy actively called out the president directly.
Kerr pointed to the fact that Trump was quicker to attack football players than actual neo-Nazis while speaking to the media Monday, “How about the irony of, ‘Free speech is fine if you’re a neo-Nazi chanting hate slogans, but free speech is not allowed to kneel in protest?'”
And Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy minced no words while encouraging player protest,
“There are serious issues of inequality and injustice in this country … I stand with those opposing such bigotry.”
Pretty cool stuff from some of the best coaches in the NBA. It’s also clear why people want a Popovich/Kerr ticket in 2020.
Pop gave us a damn anthropological political science course while speaking to the media, dude is a national treasure. If only the smartest political minds in our country actually went into politics instead of basketball coaching, we’d probably be better off.
At least the NBA starts soon.