SAN ANTONIO – Not surprisingly, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had plenty to say Monday after he was asked about President Trump comments over the weekend regarding NFL players who knelt during the national anthem before games as a form of protest.
Speaking to the media at the Spurs’ annual media day, Popovich did not mention the president by name after being asked about the story that has dominated the news cycle. But he didn't have to. Everybody knew who he was talking about.
Popovich, 68, pulled no punches in going after Trump. He made headlines last season when he went after the president and his agenda. Popovich methodically tore into Trump again while addressing the question about Trump's comments and tweets about the protests by NFL players.
A U.S Air Force Academy graduate, Popovich spoke for about 15 minutes on the subject of race relations and protest in the country.
"Our country is an embarrassment in the world," Popovich said.
Popovich said he sometimes doesn't recognize the country he's living in.
"You wonder about if you live where you thought you live," he said. "I had no idea that I lived in a country where people actually say that sort of thing."
Popovich was referring to NASCAR owner Richard Childress and former NASCAR driver Richard Petty, who had harsh criticism for NFL players who kneel during the national anthem. Childress said he would get any member of his team protesting during the national anthem on a Greyhound bus, and Petty said "anybody that don't stand up for (the anthem) out to be out of the country. Period."
Here is the transcription of Popovich’s comments after he was asked his thoughts on how politics and sports have intersected in recent days:
“That’s a pretty big question. Pretty difficult to answer quickly. There’s a lot involved in that, when you say culture and politics and sport. People write books about that, so I would hesitate to take that on as a whole. It makes more sense to me to be a little bit more specific.
“I’ll just tell you what we say to our team. Each one of them has the right and the ability to say what they would like to say and act the way they’d like to act. And they have our full support. And no matter what they might want to do or not do, is important to them, respected by us and there’s no recrimination. No matter what might take place, unless it’s ridiculously egregious. There’s a line for everything.
“I do think we do live in a difficult time, and it doesn’t do a whole lot of good. We all know the situation, and it gets beaten up every day by talking heads. It starts to get personal, and I think we all know why. We all know where the source is, where a lot of division comes from. But to dwell on that, sometimes, I think, is the wrong way to go because it’s so obvious now.
“It’s boring. The childishness and the gratuitous fear-mongering and race-baiting has been so consistent that it’s almost expected. The bar has been lowered so far, but I think it’s more important to be thinking about what to do at a more organic, roots-based level. Thinking about the efforts to restrict voter registration, comments that demean cultures, ethnic groups, races, women. Those sorts of things. What can be done in an organic way to fight that.
“We know how everything happens. We know where the power in the country is. We know the racism that exists. But it’s gone beyond that to the point where I’m more worried about, and more confused by the people around our president. These are intelligent people who know exactly what’s going on, who were basically very negative about his actions.
“But now it seems that it’s condoned. We saw it this weekend with his comments about people that should be fired, or people that shouldn’t be allowed to do the sort of thing. I wonder what the people think about who voted for him. Where their line is, how much they can take. Where does the morality and the decency kick in?
“I understand very well. They didn’t like their choice. Economically, a lot of people had a problem and he was the right guy at the right time to tap into that mood. And people overlooked one hell of a lot to be able to pull that trigger and vote in that direction. But it was because they wanted change. They felt ignored. They actually thought something would happen that would aid them. But at what price is the question.
"And as we see the actions over and over and over again, one wonders what is in their heads and have they come to the conclusion that they had the wrong vehicle. They might have had good ideas and good reasons why they wanted to go the way they went.
“But someone else that had a little bit more decency about how they approach other people and other groups might have served better. That’s what I worry about in the country. You wonder about if you live where you thought you lived.
“I just heard a comment this morning from a NASCAR owner (Richard Childress) and from Mr. (Richard) Petty that just blew me away. Just blew me away, where the owner described the fact that he would get the Greyhound bus tickets for anybody to leave and they’d be fired, and Mr. Petty who said that people who act the way we saw Sunday, they should leave the country. That’s where I live.
“I had no idea that I live in a country where people would actually say that sort of thing. I’m not totally naïve. I think these people have been enabled by an example that we’ve all been given, and you’ve seen in Charlottesville (Va.), and on and on and on. That’s not a surprise. Get over it. What do we do to get it done, to go to the grassroots and not allow this to happen again?
"Our country is an embarrassment in the world. This is an individual who actually thought that when people held arms during the games, that they were doing it to honor the flag. That’s delusional, absolutely delusional.
"But it’s what we have to live with. So, you’ve got a choice. We can continue to bounce our heads off the wall with his conduct, or we can decide that the institutions of our country are more important, that people are more important, that the decent America that we all thought we had and want is more important, and get down to business at the grassroots level and do what we have to do.
“I guess that’s enough for now.”
Popovich was asked about his platform as a well-known NBA coach and whether he feels a responsibility to speak out on issues such as this one.
“I don’t think about some platform that I have. I’m an individual. I live in this country. I have a right to say and think what I want. It’s got nothing to do with my position. If it helps somebody else think one way or the other about something, great. But the discussion has to take place.
“Obviously, race is the elephant in the room. We all understand that, but unless it is talked about constantly, it’s not going to get better. People get bored. Ah, is it that again? You’re pulling the race card again. Why do we have to talk about that? Well, because it’s uncomfortable. There has to be an uncomfortable element in the discourse for there to be change, whether it’s the LGBT movement, or women’s suffrage, race, it doesn’t matter.
“People have to be made to feel uncomfortable, and especially white people because we’re comfortable. We still have no clue of what being born white means. If you read some of the recent literature, you realize there really is no such thing as whiteness. But we kind of made it up. That’s not my original thought, but it’s true.
“It’s hard to sit down and decide that, yes. It’s like you at the 50-meter mark in the 100-meter dash. And you’ve got that kind of a lead, yes, because you were born white. You have advantages that are systemically, culturally, psychology, there. And they have been built up and cemented for hundreds of years. But many people can’t look at it. It’s too difficult. It can’t be something that is on their plate on a daily basis.
“People want to hold their position. People want the status quo. People don’t want to give that up. And until it’s given up, it’s not going to be fixed.
“Again, I’m just one dude walking around and that’s how I feel.”
Check out photos from the big day.