SAN ANTONIO — Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, one of the most outspoken sports figures in the country, is calling out whites to confront racism in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.
Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died May 25 in Minneapolis after white police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Chauvin faces second-degree murder and manslaughter charges, and three other officers have been charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.
Saying the “country in trouble and the basic reason is race,” Popovich expressed his outrage over Floyd’s killing in an emotional video released by the Spurs as part of the franchise’s #SpursVoices series on social media.
"In a strange, counterintuitive sort of way, the best teaching moment of this recent tragedy, I think, was the look on the officer's face," Popovich said, referring to Chauvin. "For white people to see how nonchalant, how casual, just how everyday-going-about-his job, so much so that he could just put his left hand in his pocket, wriggle his knee around a little bit to teach this person some sort of a lesson – and that it was his right and his duty to do it, in his mind.
"I don't know . . . I think I'm just embarrassed as a white person to know that that can happen. To actually watch a lynching. We've all seen books, and you look in the books and you see black people hanging off of trees. And you are amazed. But we just saw it again. I never thought I'd see that, with my own eyes, in real-time."
Popovich, 71, has been an outspoken critic of Trump during his presidency. One of pro sports’ most socially conscious coaches, Popovich has earned the respect of players for addressing hot-button issues, especially race.
Speaking to The Nation’s Dave Zirin last Sunday, Popovich blasted Trump for his response to Floyd’s killing. He also talked about racism and police violence toward blacks.
Popovich pulled no punches while imploring whites to call out racism in the #SpursVoices video.
“It’s got to be us that speak truth to power, that call it out no matter the consequences,” he said. “We have to not let anything go. We have to do it. Our country is in trouble and the basic reason is race. Black people have been shouldering this burden for 400 years. The only reason this nation has made the progress it has is because of the persistence, patience, and effort of black people.
“The history of our nation from the very beginning in many ways was a lie, and we continue to this day, mostly black and brown people, to try to make that lie a truth so that it is no longer a lie. And those rights and privileges are enjoyed by people of color, just like we enjoy them.”
A 1970 Air Force Academy graduate, Popovich earned his degree in Soviet Studies and considered a career with the Central Intelligence Agency. He later got his master’s degree in physical education and sports sciences at the University of Denver.
Popovich is in his 24th season as the Spurs' head coach. He has guided the franchise to all five of its NBA championships and a record league-tying 22 consecutive playoff seasons since succeeding Bob Hill early in the 1996-97 season.