Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Opinions that matter: When these coaches speak ...

Gregg Popovich /
"Values are more important to me than
anyone's skill in business ... It tells us who
we are, how we want to live and what kind
of people we are."
It's been a week and counting since Election Day 2016. Dazed and confused, we've been trying to make sense of the new world around us. Many of us have felt sucker punched by Donald Trump's victory over Hillary Clinton. Yet, some who are prominent in our sports culture are taking a stand while demonstrating their political activism. When these coaches speak ... I listen. So should you.

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich and Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, a couple of the best and brightest minds in sports, are among the many professional coaches and athletes who have shared blistering critiques following Donald Trump's election as President of the United States last Tuesday. As coaches in the NBA, where 75 percent of the athletes are black, their opinions matter.

In a recently published ESPN interview, Popovich spoke out in frustration of Trump, who will become the 45th President of the United States when he is inaugurated in January.

"I'm a rich, white guy. And I'm sick to my stomach thinking about it," said Popovich, a graduate of the Air Force Academy. "I couldn't imagine being a Muslim right now or a woman or an African-American, a Hispanic, a handicapped person, and how disenfranchised they might feel." He went on to say that for any one in those groups that voted for Trump, "it's just beyond my comprehension how they ignored all that."

On the day after the election, in an interview with The New York Times, Kerr said: "All of a sudden you're faced with the reality that the man who's going to lead you has routinely used racist, misogynist, insulting words. I didn't think this was The Jerry Springer Show." 

Over the past four years, I've had the pleasure of informally meeting Kerr on several occasions. He is a parent of University of California women's volleyball player Maddy Kerr, and my wife and I have season tickets to Cal volleyball. Kerr is warm, friendly and outgoing – and never one to shy away from societal discourse. As the son of an American academic who specialized in the Middle East, Kerr spent much of his childhood in Lebanon and other Middle East countries before returning to the U.S. to study history and sociology and star as a basketball player at the University of Arizona, then embark on a fruitful professional career in the National Basketball Association.

Steve Kerr (right) with Draymond Green /
The Golden State Warriors head coach is not one to shy
away from societal discourse.
"I didn't think this was 'The Jerry Springer Show.'"
"People are getting paid millions of dollars to go on TV and scream at each other, whether it's in sports or politics or entertainment" said Kerr, a five-time NBA champion as a player who coached the Golden State Warriors to a championship in 2015 in his rookie season as a head coach. "I guess it was only a matter of time before it spilled into politics."

Before a recent home game against the Detroit Pistons, whose own head coach Stan Van Gundy also spoke critically about Trump, Popovich admitted he's sick to his stomach, "and not basically because the Republicans won or anything, but the disgusting tenor, tone and all the comments that have been xenophobic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic. And I live in that country where half the people ignored all that to elect someone. That's the scariest part of (the) whole thing to me.

"It's got nothing to do with the environment, Obamacare and all the other stuff. We live in a country that ignored all those values that we would hold our kids accountable for."

Popovich believes that Trump's words and actions cannot be overlooked or forgotten. He went on to say this: "Everybody wants him to be successful. It's our country; we don't want it to go down the drain. Any reasonable person would come to that conclusion, but it does not take away the fact that he used that fear-mongering and all the comments from day one. The race-baiting with trying to make Barack Obama, our first black president, illegitimate. It leaves me to wonder where I've been living and with whom I'm living."

The Spurs head coach also showed empathy for minority groups which might be adversely affected by the President-elect's remarks made during his campaign.

"What gets lost in the process are African-Americans, Hispanics, women and the gay population, not to mention the eight-grade developmental stage exhibited by him when made fun of the handicapped person," Popovich said. "I mean, come on. That's what an eighth-grade bully does, and he was elected president of the United States. We would have scolded our kids. We would have had discussions and talked until we were blue in the face trying to get them to understand these things. And he is in charge of our country. That's disgusting."

Popovich's frustration with the President-elect goes beyond partisan politics.

Gregg Popovich /
A Trump presidency, he said, is on the same path as the
Roman Empire. "My final conclusion is, my big fear is,
we are Rome."
"Values to me are more important than anybody's skill in business or anything else because it tells who we are, how we want to live and what kind of people we are," he said. "That's why I have great respect for people like Lindsey Graham, John McCain, John Kasich, who I disagree with on a lot of political things. But they had enough fiber and respect for humanity and tolerance for all groups to say what they said about (Trump)."

Popovich continued, by saying "One could go on and on. We didn't make this stuff up. He's angry at the media because they reported what he said and how he acted. It's ironic to me. It just makes no sense. So that's my real fear. And that's what gives me so much pause and makes me feel so badly, that the country is willing to be that intolerant and not understand the empathy that's necessary to understand other groups' situations.

Popovich was finished – or was he? As he ended his remarks, he had one final thought. He said he was concerned that the United States under a Trump presidency is on the same path as the Roman Empire. "My final conclusion is, my big fear is, we are Rome."

Photos: Courtesy of Google Images.

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