San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich says he respects players who decide to protest during the upcoming NBA season, when some are expected to join 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's movement of sitting or kneeling during the national anthem to raise awareness about racial injustice in America.
“I absolutely understand why they're doing what they're doing and I respect their courage,” Popovich told reporters.
He later added: "It’s easier for white people because we haven’t lived that experience. It’s difficult for many white people to understand the day-to-day feeling that many black people have to deal with."
He lauded Kaepernick's protest for bringing attention to issues of racial inequality.
"When somebody like Kaepernick brings attention to this, and others who have, it makes people have to face the issue because it’s too easy to let it go because it’s not their daily experience," Popovich said, according to mySanAntonio.com. "If it’s not your daily experience, you don’t understand it."
Popovich played basketball and later coached at the Air Force Academy. He also served five years of active duty and believes Kaepernick did not intend to disrespect any members of the military with his protest.
“For instance, with Kaepernick, a pretty good group of people immediately thought he was disrespecting the military,” he said. “It had nothing to do with his protest. In fact, he was able to do what he did because of what the military does for us. Most thinking people understand that, but there’s always going to be an element that wants to jump on a bandwagon, and that’s what’s unfortunate about our country. It’s gotten to a point where the civility and the level of discourse is basically in the gutter.”
He also said his players are "engaged citizens who are fully capable of understanding what their values are, what they think is appropriate." He said it was up to each individual player to decide whether to stage some sort of demonstration.
Watch a portion of Popovich's comments below:
NBA stars LeBron James and Stephen Curry have voiced their support for Kaepernick but said that they plan to stand during the national anthem.