NEW ORLEANS — “Just stick to sports.”
Anytime an athlete speaks out on social issues, or wades into the political arena, Twitter swells with that comment — from people who disagree with the statement. In the wake of a polarizing election and controversial moves from President Donald Trump — such as his executive order on an immigration seven majority Muslim countries — there has been criticism of his moves from Commissioner Adam Silver, coaches such as Gregg Popovich, as well as players.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr has been at the front of that criticism, and he is not going to “just stick to sports.”
“If you stick to that mantra, then everybody should stick to what they’re doing, right? That means nobody’s allowed to have a political opinion,” Kerr said during All-Star weekend, where he was repeatedly asked about political and social issues. “It just so happens we get these microphones stuck in our face and we have a bigger platform. But it’s free speech and, if you look at the history of the world, the biggest problems come when people don’t speak.”
The “just stick to sports” crowd almost always opposes what the players said, but root their comments in the idea sports should be an escape from the political realm or other worldly challenges. Even though at it’s best sports has never been that — not with Jackie Robinson or Muhammad Ali or Olympic protests.
Kerr noted that in our modern world with so many outlets for getting your information, fans can choose to avoid political discussions in sports if they wish — just don’t click the link.
“I think you can follow sports however you want as a fan. If you want to watch the games to get away from everyday life, you can do that,” Kerr said. “You can turn on the games and watch the Warriors play or watch the Spurs play or whoever, and it’s just going to be about basketball. If you don’t want to read about political issues, you don’t have to read it. It’s the same in any field, whether it’s basketball, or entertainment, even politics themselves, you have to choose what you want to read about and follow.
“We are in a society where a lot of us have microphones in our face every day, and a lot of us feel strongly about our need to speak out on injustice. I think it’s important. But it’s up to the individual fan to take that in or not. They can pick and choose.”
For a long time, there has been less social activism among athletes — not just in the NBA, but across sports. That is changing again, and Kerr said it’s a reaction to the times in which we live.
“I think maybe over the last 20 or 30 years there hasn’t been that same sense of urgency because we’ve generally lived in a pretty peaceful era, but it feels like it’s changing and so the whole country is changing in terms of its activism and social awareness,” Kerr said…
“For a long time, a lot of athletes stayed out of the political forum, out of fear of losing customers, and I think it’s refreshing that we have athletes who are putting their social beliefs ahead of any marking issues. I think that’s powerful.”
Kerr spoke out some on a long weekend where he had a microphone in his face a lot, opposing President Trump policies such as building a border wall with Mexico for example. However, mostly he praised both the increased social activism of players and the stance of the league to stand up for inclusion — including moving the All-Star Game out of Charlotte because of North Carolina’s “bathroom bill.”
“Free speech is one of the principles our country was founded on, I think there’s some responsibility that goes with that if you see injustice,” Kerr said. “That’s why I think the league has been great in terms of understanding that responsibility and taking action, such as moving the All-Star Game from Charlotte to New Orleans….
“I think what the NBA tries to preach is equality, and inclusion — we don’t just talk about it, we live it. We have this beautiful game where we have people from every race and religion and background, and we like that in our fans, too.”
While the league has turned its words into actions such as moving the All-Star Game — and warning Texas if they pass a similar bill Houston is likely out of the running for the 2020 edition of the game — the question is what the next step will be for the players. Commenting on social injustice is one thing, but how do they turn that into actions?
“That’s not my department,” Kerr said with a shrug. “I have spoken out on issues and will continue to do so, and I think the league has done a really good job of walking the walk. Moving the All-Star Game from Charlotte to here I think was an important statement for the league — we are about inclusion and equality for everybody, regardless of gender, race, religion, background, anything.”
Coaches such as Kerr, as well as NBA players, have a bigger megaphone to get out their views because they are interviewed by the media almost daily. Kerr said that he feels players have a responsibility to step up and be heard on issues, not just “stick to sports.”
“I think if you’re in a certain position, and you feel strongly about something, then I think it’s important and you should (speak out),” Kerr said. “But we all live different lives in different places, we’re from different backgrounds with different journeys, and what’s important to me might not be important to somebody else, and visa vera.
“But we’re all in a position where we can make a difference, and I think players understand that.”