Gregg Popovich, never one to avoid issues beyond the sidelines and baselines, describes former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s efforts to bring focus to racial and social injustice as “a very patriotic thing.”
This time, however, Popovich’s reiterated support of Kaepernick has a greater impact given his role as Team USA basketball coach.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday after the U.S. team practice at the Lakers’ facility, Popovich was asked about how politically polarized America is at the moment, particularly in the context of patriotism.
His extended response (via ESPN.com):
“Patriotism means a lot of things to different people. There’s people who are truly committed in that sense and people who are fake. The show of patriotism I think is a bit inappropriate and that is not something that I think we want to emulate. Because someone hugs a flag doesn’t mean they’re patriotic. Being a patriot is somebody that respects their country and understands that the best thing about our country is that we have the ability to fix things that have not come to fruition for a lot of people so far.”
“All the promises in the beginning when the country was established is fantastic, but those goals have not been reached yet for a lot of people,” Popovich continued. “So you can still be patriotic and understand that there still needs to be criticism and changes and more attention paid to those who do not have what other people do have, and that’s where we’ve fallen short in a lot of different ways. Being a critic of those inequalities does not make you a non-patriot. It’s what makes America great, that you can say those things and attack those things to make them better. That’s what a lot of other countries don’t have. You lose your freedom when you do that.”
The longtime Spurs coach has spoken often about Kaepernick, who drew national reaction — positive and negative — when, while with the Niners, he began kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 to protest racial oppression and police brutality.
Popovich has said before that he believes Kaepernick will be regarded in the future like other athletes in the past who stood and fought for social justice. It’s the negative reaction the quarterback elicited and his ongoing unemployment (Kaepernick, 31, tweeted last week that he is “still ready” to play) that continues to grate on Popovich.
“That was a very patriotic thing he did,” said Popovich, who graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy and served in the Air Force before moving into coaching. “He cared about his country enough to fix some things that were obvious, that everybody knows about but does nothing about.”
Popovich’s remarks came the day after Giants star running back Saquon Barkley, the 2018 Offensive Rookie of the Year, said his vocal support of Kaepernick recently on social media have a purpose — no matter the cost.
“I’m not afraid to speak my mind,” Barkley told the New York Daily News on Monday. “If a fan wants to not be a fan of me because I retweet a thing for Colin Kaepernick, I don’t care. But I respect that people have their own opinions. Everyone is entitled to that. I just would hope that people respect I have a right to my own opinion, as well.”