By Tim Turner, For TheAfricanAmericanAthlete.com
San Antonio and Houston are 197 miles apart, which isn’t too bad a drive on I-10 — especially at the time of year when bluebells are brilliantly blooming, coloring expanses of earth between eastbound and westbound traffic along the way.
But as relates to how they address pressing social issues of the day, those cities, so close geographically in the same state, are worlds apart.
It’s what one could easily surmise from statements by San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, and Houston Texans owner Robert McNair.
Pop was beaming over last Saturday’s massive Save Our Lives peaceful protests internationally, ones as a result of youths demanding more stringent gun control after 17 students and personnel of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., were killed by a former student wielding an AK-15.
Prior to the Spurs game against the Milwaukee Bucks Saturday, Popovich had these comments:
“. . . So, to see these teenagers demand this, you know it takes you back,” Popovich said. “And you think about it, the civil rights movement didn’t really flip and change until people saw things on TV. You know, they saw policemen with fire hoses, and dogs biting old black men and women, people being beaten with sticks. And then you get to the Vietnam War, and we’re in it forever and blah blah, blah and then what happens? Film starts coming back with arms and legs blown off and coffins. And I can still remember the little girl that was napalmed running down the road. Things change when that happens.”
Pop sees the value of peaceful protest, which is why it was no surprise for him to say prior to the NBA season that his players could protest injustice any way they saw fit. That would include taking a knee during the National Anthem. Which brings us to McNair. There are only a handful of NFL owners who have names outside of their community because they lead winning franchises.
Then there’s this guy, who during a New York meeting last season authored the comment that owners “can’t have the inmates running the prison.” He apologized and cited a poor choice of words. But at a gathering of owners in Orlando he stepped in it again relative to how player protests should be handled, something that owners seemingly are split on:
“We’re going to deal with it in such a way, I think, that people will understand that we want everybody to respect our country, respect our flag,” McNair said. “And our playing fields, that’s not the place for political statements. That’s not the place for religious statements. That’s the place for football. And that’s what I think we need to be doing.”
It seems that in McNair’s world view, players should subordinate their urges to fully themselves for three-plus hours so as not give a portion of the Texans fan base the vapors. As I interpret his desires, stadiums should be football only. So that would seem to mean no National Anthem or flags anywhere because both make political statements, right? And since he doesn’t want religious statements there either, that means Tim Tebow of days gone by, and others that follow who hit their knees, or raise their eyes to the heavens is a no-no.
It’s kind of late to still be making these type blunders, so either he doesn’t care or is being deliberately obtuse.
OK, one more time: Colin Kaepernick and players who have taken up this cause, peacefully, have been doing so refusing to bring attention to racial inequality and police treatment of African Americans. They are not disrespecting the flag. They are not disrespecting America. They are not disrespecting our nation’s military. They are seeking respect and justice for all people. They want to be heard since their very lives are at stake — especially they could very well end up on the wrong end of a gun once out of their football uniform.
Those kids in Parkland found out how their world could change in an instant because of lax gun regulations. And they created a movement that was highlighted by a march in Washington, D.C. That drew 800,000, a crowd whose side easily surpassed that of the most recent inauguration. Popovich could not help noticing the person who the inauguration was held for was nowhere near the D.C. March. And it was pretty hilarious that Donald Trump, who said he’d have run into MSDH even if he had a gun, but had a motorcade drive out of the way to avoid peaceful protesters who lined the street of his usual route to his vacation home.
“. . . Obviously, you can’t put an image on TV of what happened in that classroom (during the shooting),” Popovich said. “That would be pretty horrifying, but if you just sit for a moment and imagine those bullets going through those bodies and what those bodies might have looked like afterward, how can the president of your country talk about all of the things he’s going to do and then go have lunch with the NRA and change it. It’s just cowardice. A real leader would have been in Washington, D.C. this weekend, not at his penthouse at Mar-A-Lago. He would have had the decency to meet with a group to see what’s going on and how important it is. And how important our children should be to us.”
Pop and McNair represent two responses that could not be more diametrically opposed.
Maybe it’s because Pop is up close and personal with his players in practices, an 82-game season and oftentimes postseason as head coach, and in a league that is 75 percent African-American. And maybe McNair’s statement is borne of a detachment from his players because he’s with family and friends in a suite, far away from meaningful interaction with players who make up 64 percent of league rosters.
Whatever the reason, Pop and the NBA look so much better on the protest front than what the NFL could imagine. It’s fixable, but does the NFL have the will?