Steve Kerr did not set out to become an activist. Gregg Popovich did not set out to lead the NBA chapter of the resistance. Neither one has any desire to seek elected office—the #PopKerr2020 campaign notwithstanding.
Yet this is where they find themselves: as leading voices for social justice, gun control and general opposition to the policies and excesses of the Donald Trump White House. As prominent, successful NBA coaches, they already had the platform. And while they might never have contemplated using that platform to advance a cause or promote a particular viewpoint, circumstances pushed them here.
Gun violence. Police brutality. Racism. Nearly everything Trump has done or said since taking office. The same things that have alarmed much of the populace have caught the attention of Popovich, the San Antonio Spurs head coach, and Kerr, the Golden State Warriors head coach—both of whom are worldly, well-informed and politically astute.
If the era of "stick to sports" is over, it is over at least in part because Kerr and Popovich have so boldly pushed the envelope, disregarding any potential backlash. They were willing to speak out, and that, in turn, has made it easier for more voices around the NBA to do the same.
Personal experience guides both men.
Popovich is an Air Force Academy graduate with a degree in Soviet studies who trained in military intelligence and has traveled the world. Kerr spent part of his childhood in Beirut, Lebanon, where his father, Malcolm, served as president of American University. When Malcolm was assassinated by Islamic terrorists in 1984, Steve was just 18 years old.
So when children or concert-goers are gunned down in another mass shooting, Kerr always feels moved to speak out.
"It doesn't seem to matter to our government that children are being shot to death day after day in schools," Kerr told reporters earlier this year. "It doesn't matter that people are being shot at a concert, at a movie theater. It's not enough, apparently, to move our leadership, our government, the people running this country, to actually do anything. That's demoralizing."
Popovich, too, has spoken passionately about gun control, even raising the idea that the Second Amendment should be reassessed. "Is it useful? Does it serve its purpose the way it was supposed to do in the beginning? That discussion should be had," he said in March.
A month earlier, Popovich used the celebration of Black History Month to give an impassioned, impromptu locker-room speech on racism, saying, "We live in a racist country that hasn't figured it out yet, and it's always important to bring attention to it, even if it angers some people."
Although both coaches have freely shared their views in the past, it was Trump's rise to power that surely helped ignite their activism. Golden State last year became the first NBA champion in recent history not to visit the White House—a direct rebuke of Trump by the players, as well as Kerr, who has referred to the president as a "blowhard" who is "unfit for office."
Popovich has sounded a similar theme, blasting Trump for his "disgusting tenor and tone, and all the comments that have been xenophobic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic." In comments to The Nation last year, Popovich called Trump "a soulless coward."
Such remarks might alienate a portion of the NBA fanbase. (This is certainly more likely in the Texas market, where Popovich works.) That has not dissuaded either man from speaking his conscience.
In fact, the two coaches have shown more courage and commitment to justice than many elected officials, inspiring the half-joking #PopKerr2020 hashtag campaign on Twitter (which in turn inspired a line of T-shirts and coffee mugs).
As flattering and amusing as that may be, neither one is ready to embrace a life in politics.
"I'm not trying to run for office or do anything great," Popovich told The Undefeated. "I'm just trying to be honest with what I felt and what I think people are feeling."
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