How the sports world reacted to President Trump's immigration ban
In January, President Trump signed an executive order targeting seven Muslim–majority countries and preventing individuals from those countries from entering the United States for 90 days.
The countries affected are Iraq, Syria, Iran, Liba, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. The order suspended the U.S. refugee program for 120 days and halts all refugee intake from Syria indefinitely.
The executive order also initially affected green card holders and people with valid visas. There were a number of legal U.S. residents who were en route to the country when Trump signed the order and were not allowed to enter when they landed. Several of those travelers were detained and others were deported back to the countries that they flew in from. Thousands of people flocked to airports across the country to protest.
The executive was blocked by a federal judge, so its future is uncertain. But since its signing, a number of athletes have also spoken up against Trump's immigration ban. Some athletes have protested, while others have taken to social media to express their opposition or support—though most athletes who have spoken up have been opposed to the ban. The basketball and soccer worlds have been the most vocal so far.
Here's a look at how some athletes responded.
The NBA contacted the U.S. State Department to learn how the immigration ban would impact players in its league. Luol Deng, a former refugee from Sudan with dual British citizenship, has been outspoken about President Trump's executive order on immigration.
Deng added to his social media post in a conversation with reporters.
"I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for the opportunity to find refuge in a safe harbor. For the people of South Sudan, refugee resettlement has saved countless lives, just as it has for families all over the world escaping the depths of despair. It’s important that we remember to humanize the experience of others," Deng said. "Refugees overcome immeasurable odds, relocate across the globe, and work hard to make the best of their newfound home. Refugees are productive members of society that want for their family just as you want for yours. I stand by all refugees and migrants, of all religions, just as I stand by the policies that have historically welcomed them."
Others in the NBA community have also criticized the policy. Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy has been critical of Trump and expressed his sentiments with reporters the Monday after the executive order was signed.
"This travel ban is starting to get to really scary stuff,” Van Gundy said. “Now we’re judging people by their religion and we’re trying to keep Muslims out. (CNN's) Fareed Zakaria had a great thing … none of those seven nations has been responsible for an American death, but we’re barring everybody from those seven. It’s just playing to people’s fears and prejudices."
Warriors coach Steve Kerr also blasted the executive order.
Gregg Popovich also criticized the ban.
Mavs owner Mark Cuban, a frequent critic of Trump during the campaign, told SI.com in an email that Trump "has no situational awareness. It seems like if you spot him A and B, he wouldn't be able to find C."
Former NBA players have also been willing to speak up. Jason Collins, who made history in 2013 when he became the first openly gay male professional athlete in American sports, campaigned for Hillary Clinton. Collins attended the Women's March in Park City, Utah, after Trump's inauguration. He told SI.com that he's concerned about a lack of empathy under the new administration.
"It’s very difficult to have a conversation with someone who disputes facts or someone who is unable to take in a different viewpoint. It goes back to empathy, understanding, the ability to step into someone else’s shoes and have empathy for them," Collins said. "Because the biggest problem is not being able to find that common ground with someone who comes from a different background than you."
Activist and former NBA player Etan Thomas commended the response to Trump's executive order on immigration.
"People are using their voices. You are seeing an outpouring of everyone realizing the situation we are in with Trump, and it affects everyone—all races, colors, nationalities, religions, economic backgrounds, etc. The women's march was absolutely beautiful to see. The protests at the airports were beautiful to see," Thomas told SI.com in an email. "The amounts of athletes and coaches and management who have now been vocal in their opposition of Trump have been beautiful to see."
Here's how some other NBA players responded:
Masai Ujiri on travel ban: "I think it's just ridiculous what's going on out there... I just don't get it. This is mind-boggling"— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) January 30, 2017
Ujiri: "I'm a prime example of what opportunity is. Canada gave me opportunity. America gave me opportunity. Thats what this world is about"— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) January 30, 2017
Freedom and liberty packing up their things...— Steve Nash (@SteveNash) January 28, 2017
One of the first prominent sports figures to respond to the immigration ban was U.S. men's national team captain Michael Bradley, who said he was "sad and embarrassed" by the executive order.
U.S. women's national team captain Becky Sauerbrunn also criticized the ban, calling it "un-American."
Other U.S. men's national team players like Darlington Nagbe, Sacha Kljestan and Alejandro Bedoya expressed concern over the ban to Four Four Two after Bradley's comments. (Nagbe was a refugee, while Kljestan's father discreetly came to America from Canada after escaping Yugoslavia.)
Nagbe: “At one point, I was a refugee, and my mother was a refugee,” Nagbe said. “So I can only imagine. I mean, I know the pain that [refugees are] feeling this moment. When we moved to this country [on a visa, after escaping to Sierra Leone], it was one of the best things that ever happened to us, and me just being here, being able to represent the country is a dream come true for myself and my mother and my entire family. You know, hopefully everything gets cleared out and everyone's able to go about their day and chase freedom and try to pursue their dream, just like I did."
Kljestan: “I agree 100 percent with what Michael said,” Kljestan said. “I think he took a strong stand and the right stand. Even today, I play against Serbia, the country of my father, who came to the U.S. illegally himself and built himself a life here. America is the land of opportunity, and I don't think we're the type of country that should shut our borders to anybody. I think we should welcome everybody here to our soil to live the American dream.”
Bedoya: “I support Michael, and we have a great group,” midfielder Alejandro Bedoya said. “This team is the epitome or diversity in America and what America's all about. So I stand by my captain.”
Not every U.S. men's national team player is against the restrictions, however. Geoff Cameron told SI.com's Grant Wahl that he supports Trump's efforts to bolster American security.
“I believe it’s important to support our President whether he was your candidate or not,” Cameron told Wahl. “I am pleased he is making security of all Americans one of his top priorities. Our enemies have stated—and in Europe they have proven—they will take advantage of lax immigration procedures for the purposes of staging attacks. A temporary pause on immigration for the purpose of evaluating and improving vetting procedures makes sense. The United States is one of the most generous and compassionate nations. Our ability to care for and support countries and refugees in need resides in our own sense of security. If we don’t feel safe, how can we protect others?”
Several other U.S. women's national team criticized the ban.
U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati also weighed in, speaking about the ban on the Planet Futbol Podcast with Grant Wahl.
The MLS Players Union issued the following statement on the Monday following the executive order's passage.
“We are deeply concerned, both specifically for our players who may be impacted, and more broadly for all people who will suffer as a result of the travel ban implemented on Friday. Details on the practical impact of the ban are still emerging, and we are still sorting through the potential impact on our players and their families. We are extremely disappointed by the ban and feel strongly that it runs counter to the values of inclusiveness that define us as a nation. We are very proud of the constructive and measured manner in which Michael Bradley expressed his feelings on the ban. It is our deepest hope that this type of strong and steady leadership will help to guide us through these difficult times.”
New England Revolution striker Kei Kamara approached the issue from a personal perspective.
Though basketball and soccer players seem to feel least inclined to "stick to sports," a number of other athletes have spoken up as well, like Olympian Ibtihaj Muhammad.
Four-time Olympic gold medalist Mo Farah, who was born in Somalia but is a British citizen, also expressed concern over Trump's ban. He is currently training in Ethiopia and was unsure whether he would be able to return home to Portland, Ore., where he resides with his wife and children throughout the year. He issued a statement expressing his disagreement with Trump's decision and was later backed by Nike CEO Mark Parker. Great Britain's foreign office later determined that British travelers that held dual citizenship were only affected if they traveled to the U.S. from one of the seven banned countries.
“We understand from the statement released this evening by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that the executive order will not apply to Mo, and we are grateful to the FCO for urgently clarifying the situation,” a spokesman for Farah said in a statement. “Mo is relieved that he will be able to return to his family once his current training camp concludes.”
The U.S. has featured a number of refugees on its Olympic teams over the years, such as Lopez Lomong, who spoke with SI's Tim Layden about the ban.
Here's a sampling of some other athlete reactions to the ban.
Rachel Joyce (triathlete, to SI.com's Tom Taylor): "I’m a U.K. national, I was born in Mexico. What happens if Mexico becomes one of the countries on the list? Does that mean I’m not going to be allowed back in? (...) I’m not here on a permanent visa. I don’t have a green card. Anyone who’s not here—even on a green card it doesn’t seem like you’re safe—but if you’re not a citizen, then there’s no certainty in the future."
Lea Davidson (cross country mountain biker, to SI.com's Tom Taylor): "Everything’s at stake really. The Constitution, everything that the U.S. was founded on. So I think now is the time to speak up, especially if you have a platform, if you have a following."
Kelly Crowley (paralympic swimmer, email to SI.com's Tom Taylor): "The immigration ban, the threat to withdraw from the UN, and the hate speech - it all goes against everything the Olympic & Paralympic movement stands for: peace, respectful competition, international friendship. My heart goes out to all the people (not just athletes) whose careers and livelihoods are threatened, and I hope the world can see that the hateful rhetoric does not represent America or the vast majority of Americans."
Bradley Snyder (paralympic swimmer, email to SI.com's Tom Taylor): "As a veteran of the US Navy, having deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan, it disappoints me that we are now taking such a stiff stance against immigrants and refugees from countries that are experiencing significant conflict and turmoil. It saddens me that we are willing to take offensive action in these areas, actively participating in said conflict and turmoil that unsettles the peace for so many innocent civilians. It now seems that we are setting the precedent that are unwilling to follow through with our actions and support the victims of chaos abroad…
"I have seen firsthand the negative effects of war and conflict in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I have seen families displaced from their homes, I have seen the awful oppression of women, and I have seen children orphaned by their countries wars. I believe in our intervention in the areas I have served, but I believe that if we are willing to take it upon ourselves to take part in the conflict and turmoil in these volatile areas, then we should also be willing to take responsibility for the associated consequences."
Dean Karnazes (ultramarathoner, to SI.com's Tom Taylor): "The mood right now is very unsettled, and there’s been a lot of overreaction on both sides, and I think it’s important to separate fact from fiction. (...) There’s a large Syrian refugee problem in Greece. And the problem being that the Greeks are incapable of housing these folks. And so many of them are trapped in this purgatory where they’ve escaped the ravages of war in their country, but they’re in a holding tank in Greece. (...) When you put a face to the problem. Well the people I saw were women and children … these were desperate people. They had no intention of harming anyone, they were just trying to avoid being killed in their home country."
Jesse Thomas (triathlete, email to SI.com's Tom Taylor): "I'm deeply concerned and honestly embarrassed by ban. It's clearly inhumane to the countries directly impacted, and it sends the wrong message about America to the world in general."
Cris Cyborg (MMA fighter, text to Fansided's Mike Dyce): "America is an amazing place with lots of opportunity. It became the greatest nation in the world by accepting the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free. America is a place where even, the homeless, have an opportunity to improve their life with hard work and determination. The world is a dangerous place, and America needs to ensure its secure, but we have to be careful that we don't let fear rob us of our greatest accomplishment, which is the success of diversity we've celebrated in the USA."
Shaka Smart (Texas basketball coach, to SI.com's Pete Thamel): "International basketball players are a huge part of college basketball, NBA basketball, even high school and grassroots basketball. Hopefully those guys will continue to have opportunities to come here and explore their dreams and come to places like Texas and be successful on the court and off."
my fam immigrated from Germany in 1700s escaping religious persecution. America is created by immigrants.— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) January 29, 2017
Jeff Pearlman's tweet below contains a screenshot from former Yankees reliever Tanyon Sturtze and contains explicit language. Viewer's discretion is advised.
Former MLB player Aubrey Huff also posted a Twitter message supporting Trump and criticizing protesters, though he later apologized for his language. Curt Schilling, of course, is also a regular tweeter of pro-Trump politics.