A photo posted Monday night showed Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell taking a knee while wearing the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded to him in 2011 by former President Barack Obama.
The Basketball Hall of Fame inductee said it was his effort to make a statement against social injustice:
Proud to take a knee, and to stand tall against social injustice." #takeaknee #medaloffreedom #NFL #BillRussell #MSNBC https://t.co/1MhinoAcW72017-9-25 21:54:07
Russell earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom, widely considered the highest civilian honor, for his efforts during the United States' civil rights movement.
"When he was about 77, my father and I were talking," Russell said. "And he said: 'You know, you're all grown up now, and I want to tell you something. You know, I am very proud of the way you turned out as my son, and I'm proud of you as a father.'
"My father is my hero, O.K., and I cannot perceive of anything topping that. While I am very, very flattered by this honor."
The Louisiana native faced racism even during his days as a dominant center for the Celtics, an issue he wrote about in his 1979 memoir, Second Wind, per Adrian Walker of the Boston Globe.
"Boston itself was a flea market of racism," Russell wrote. "It had all varieties, old and new, and in their most virulent form. The city had corrupt, city hall-crony racists, brick-throwing, send-'em-back-to-Africa racists, and in the university areas phony radical-chic racists. … Other than that, I liked the city."
Now 83, he's watching a new era of athletes take on issues of social injustice. This weekend, NFL players engaged in various forms of protest following polarizing remarks from President Donald Trump, who also became embroiled in controversy opposite NBA superstars Stephen Curry and LeBron James.
The symbolic movement of taking a knee started to gain traction last summer when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick did so during the national anthem. He explained the reasoning for that decision to Steve Wyche of NFL.com in August 2016.
"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," he said. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."
Now Russell, who's no stranger to using his voice and actions to push for change, is joining the effort to help push for equality once again.