The NBA is socially progressive. Commissioner Adam Silver is not particularly concerned with marijuana use among players. He has called for the legalization of sports betting. The NBA made the decision to pull the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte, NC due to North Carolina’s controversial HB2 law which discriminates against LGBTQ individuals. In making this decision the NBA stated that their decision was “guided in these discussions by the long-standing core values of our league. These include not only diversity, inclusion, fairness and respect for others but also the willingness to listen and consider opposing points of view”. In the wake of the recent presidential election Adam Silver sent a memo to NBA offices worldwide “to reiterate to NBA employees that the league’s core values and commitment to equality and diversity haven’t changed”. And Silver has publicly stressed that he encourages players talking openly about and taking stands on social issues in a respectful manner, that NBA players have the opportunity to make a difference in society.
Many NBA players have taken advantage of this message of social responsibility. NBA players wore “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts before games in order to protest the treatment of blacks by law enforcement. Following the death of his cousin resulting from gun violence in Chicago, Dwyane Wade made numerous statements and gave interviews to major news outlets condemning the rampant violence in the city and declaring something had to be done. Jabari Parker authored an article in The Player’s Tribune speaking about his experiences growing up in Chicago and having to deal with the gun violence which encapsulated his neighborhood. Numerous teams and individual players have taken steps towards bringing awareness to issues of social justice and social inequality. Meeting with politicians and city leaders. Donating their time and money. Making public appearances and public statements in attempts to use their platform in order to make a difference in society.
This extends to NBA coaches. San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has given multiple statements related to societal issues. Multiple coaches came out in support of the NFL national anthem protests and have declared that they support peaceful protests, further urging those who protest to put action behind it. They spoke out against Donald Trump and his characterization of sexism and misogyny as “locker room talk”. They had also declared Trump’s rhetoric to be both racist and homophobic. And now that Donald Trump has been elected the future president of the United States, an outcome many within the NBA did not support, head coaches are once again speaking out.
Detroit Pistons head coach and president of basketball operations let his feelings regarding Donald Trump’s election be known in a five-plus minute diatribe to reporters. In this statement Van Gundy eviscerated Donald Trump and his supporters, declaring that,
“We just elected an openly, brazen misogynist leader and we should keep our mouths shut and realize that we need to be learning maybe from the rest of the world, because we don’t got anything to teach anybody.
“It’s embarrassing. I have been ashamed of a lot of things that have happened in this country, but I can’t say I’ve ever been ashamed of our country until today. Until today. We all have to find our way to move forward, but that was — and I’m not even trying to make a political statement. To me, that’s beyond politics.”
Steve Kerr, head coach of the Golden State Warriors, was similarly outraged by the election of Trump. Kerr stated that,
“It’s tough when you want there to be some respect and dignity and there hasn’t been any. And then you walk into a room with your daughter and your wife, who’ve basically been insulted by (Trump’s) comments, and they’re distraught. And you walk in and you see the faces of your players, most of them who have been insulted directly as minorities, it’s sort of shocking. It really is. We talked about it as a team this morning. I don’t know what else to say. Just the whole process has left all of us feeling kind of disgusted and disappointed. I thought we were better than this. I thought The Jerry Springer Show was The Jerry Springer Show … This is a presidential election. It’s not The Jerry Springer Show. I’m sorry. This is my rant. I’m disappointed in the lack of respect and dignity that’s involved, and that’s the way it goes.”
Finally, Gregg Popovich was asked his opinion of Donald Trump’s victory. Donald Trump is a subject which Popovich has previously broached, and not in a complimentary manner. But Popovich is known to be both thoughtful and straight-forward in his comments on social and political issues. He does not make a statement without a measured and reasoned opinion. So what did he have to say about the presidential election?
“Right now I’m just trying to formulate thoughts. It’s too early. I’m just sick to my stomach. Not basically because the Republicans won or anything, but the disgusting tenor and tone and all of the comments that have been xenophobic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic.
“I live in that country where half of the people ignored all of that to elect someone. That’s the scariest part of the whole thing to me. It’s got nothing to do with the environment and Obamacare, and all of the other stuff. We live in a country that ignored all of those values that we would hold our kids accountable for. They’d be grounded for years if they acted and said the things that have been said in that campaign by Donald Trump.”
Two things are particularly noteworthy about these statements. First, it would appear these coaches have been emboldened by the NBA to make such statements. In fact, Rick Carlisle, the president of the NBA Coaches’ Association, commented on these statements by saying,
“NBA coaches are passionate about our country, league and players being represented in the right way and by leaders who value diversity, equality and women. We should not tolerate xenophobic, homophobic, racist and misogynistic talk from a person recently elected president. And I am proud that my colleagues are speaking up.”
Second, it is head coaches making these statements. As pointed out by Gregg Popovich, white, rich head coaches. While many NBA players have made their feelings about the outcome of the presidential election known, and they are similar to the statements above, they almost carry less weight. These head coaches have more in common with Donald Trump than they do with their players in some cases, yet they still speak out. It’s not simply because they must interact with socially progressive players on a daily basis. Coaches in other professional sports leagues have not made similar statements. NBA head coaches are speaking out because they feel it is necessary, and because they can.
That makes their statements that much more powerful.