Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr on Thursday called the NFL’s decision to implement a rule against players kneeling during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before games “idiotic,” criticizing the league’s owners and leadership for “pandering to [its] fan base” with a display of “fake patriotism” that’s intended to divide rather than unite.
Why is Steve Kerr criticizing the NFL?
Kerr — who has become one of the NBA’s most prominent voices on social and political issues, focusing primarily on the scourge of gun violence in America, but also frequently expressing his disagreements with the election, policies and “divisiveness” of President Donald Trump — answered a question on the matter during the Warriors’ shootaround ahead of Thursday night’s Game 5 of the Western Conference finals between Golden State and the Houston Rockets:
— San Francisco Chronicle (@sfchronicle) May 24, 2018
“It’s just typical of the NFL,” Kerr said. “They’re just playing to their fan base. Basically just trying to use the anthem as fake patriotism, nationalism, scaring people. It’s idiotic. But that’s how the NFL has conducted their business.”
“I’m proud to be in a league that understands patriotism in America is about free speech and peacefully protesting,” he continued. “Our leadership in the NBA understands when the NFL players were kneeling, they were kneeling to protest police brutality, to protest racial inequality. They weren’t disrespecting the flag or the military. But our president decided to make it about that and the NFL followed suit, pandered to their fan base, created this hysteria.”
What led to the NFL changing its rules about the national anthem?
Kerr’s referring to the president’s inflammatory comments from last September, when he asked attendees at a rally in Alabama if they’d “love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired.'” That sparked a new round of demonstrations from NFL players and teams, and helped make the topic of protests during the anthem — not necessarily of the reasons the players were protesting, mind you, but the matter of whether players who did so were being “insufficiently patriotic” and “disrespecting the flag” — into a season-long issue.
With Wednesday’s announcement of a new rule that gives players the option of staying in the locker room during the national anthem if they don’t wish to stand during the ceremonies, but subjects franchises whose players and team employees are on the field and don’t stand to fines from the league, the NFL appeared to try to offer something for everyone — freedom to refrain from standing for the players, and the promise of discipline for those who view the players’ protests as disrespectful. On this score, the league appears to have failed. Players reportedly view the “compromise” with contempt, and Trump went on television on Thursday morning to say that players who opt to remain in the locker room rather than coming out and standing “maybe […] shouldn’t be in the country.”
“It’s kind of what’s wrong with our country right now,” Kerr said Thursday. “People in high places are trying to divide us, divide loyalties, make this about the flag as if the flag is something than what it really is, which is a representation of what we’re about, which is diversity, peaceful protests, right to free speech. It’s ironic, actually.”
This isn’t the first time Kerr has taken the NFL to task on the issue of protests during the anthem. During an interview last year on the political podcast “Pod Save America,” he said he believed former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had been blackballed by the NFL over his decision first to sit, and then to kneel, during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before NFL games during the 2016 preseason in protest of police brutality against and oppression of black people and other people of color.
“I think a lot of the NFL fans are truly angry at Kaepernick, and I think owners are worried about what it’s going to do to business,” Kerr said.
How the timing of the NFL’s rule change matters dovetails with an NBA story
Nearly two years later, Kaepernick remains on the outside the NFL looking in, but the discussion his protest sparked continues apace. That was especially true on Wednesday, when, mere hours after news broke of the NFL’s new rule, Milwaukee police released body camera video footage of officers using a Taser during the January arrest of Milwaukee Bucks guard Sterling Brown.
The department’s chief issued an apology to Brown, saying officers “acted inappropriately” in the incident and that they had been disciplined; that discipline, we now know, was a two-day suspension. The Milwaukee Police Association, a union representing rank-and-file officers, took issue with the apologies from the chief and Mayor Tom Barrett, chalking the incident up not to inappropriate officer behavior but to insufficient staffing levels, training and mentoring that they lay at the feet of the city. Brown plans to file a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and police department, with the full support of his team.
Kaepernick’s original protest sparked response from many NBA players and coaches, which seemed like a prelude to similar protests prior to NBA games during the 2016-17 season. Those protests never really came; players and teams instead largely chose to stand and lock arms. Such gestures stopped short of violating the NBA’s rule requiring players, coaches and trainers “to stand and line up in a dignified posture along the sidelines or on the foul line during the playing of the national anthem.”
Say, what about that NBA rule on standing for the anthem?
That rule became a point of contention among many wondering why the NFL came in for such criticism on Wednesday, given that the NBA’s had it on the books for years, and that — after the very public battle between the president and multiple NBA figures last summer and fall — NBA Commissioner Adam Silver sent a memo to all 30 teams reminding players of the league’s rule about standing respectfully for the anthem, and saying “the league office will determine how to deal with any possible instance in which a player, coach or trainer does not stand.”
As he’s done in the past, Kerr said Thursday that he believes the context surrounding the NBA’s policy regarding the anthem, which was a result of negotiations between the league and its players, matters. So, too, does the relationship between the league’s brass and its employees in working on the issues that surround it and players’ expression of their personal views on political and social topics — a process that features opinion-shifting superstar players like LeBron James and Chris Paul in union leadership positions, which should not be overlooked — when comparing it to the NFL’s situation.
“Adam and his leadership, I do feel like we’re partners — players, coaches, management, the league’s management,” Kerr said, according to Anthony Slater of The Athletic. “I do feel like we’re all partners. I’m really proud of our players around the league for being community leaders, for being outspoken for what’s good, for change — whether it’s, I know tonight we’ll be honoring the victims of the Sante Fe shooting. A lot of our players have been outspoken about gun safety, gun violence and our league supports it. We’re proud to be part of a group that’s trying to make our country better, make some changes for the better. I’m proud of the NBA for that.”
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• Footage of Bucks player’s arrest released
• Terez Paylor: NFL players react to league’s new anthem policy