The election of Donald Trump as president spurred protests in spots around the country, and for some athletes in the NBA and NFL, it was a sobering development they struggled to accept and understand.
In the NBA, players such as David West and coaches such as Doc Rivers, Steve Kerr and Stan Van Gundy were outwardly critical, expressing anxiety, uncertainty and fear. In the NFL, Brandon Marshall, Aaron Rodgers and Doug Baldwin sorted out their feelings, while in New England, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady faced questions about their seeming support for Trump.
“The message was loud and clear last night,” West, a veteran forward for the Golden State Warriors and two-time all-star, said Wednesday (via CSN Bay Area). “I don’t think there’s any room to not face the obvious truth: that he speaks for the majority of the people in this nation. His attitudes about black people and Muslim people, about women, about just about whatever group you can name, folks agreed with his position. And you can’t deny that because folks voted for him.
“So this whole fairy tale about some post-racial . . . this utopia that Obama supposedly created, it’s all bull. That’s the bottom line. When you look at what the results say from last night, this nation has not moved a thread in terms of its ideals.”
West, 36 and in his 14th season, made headlines recently when he revealed that he has staged a silent national anthem protest for years, standing two feet behind teammates during the song to protest inequalities faced by African Americans.
David West called the election disappointing: "A lot of the things (Trump) was saying publicly, a majority of this country feels privately" pic.twitter.com/E65ZQXLUiy
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) November 9, 2016
West was disturbed by the election as well as by things Trump said during the campaign.
“The things that he said, the things that he represented, that’s the way that the majority of this nation feels,” West said. “I think he just emboldened them because he’s able to say it publicly. He got the platform. It is kind of unnerving and unsettling. … The man’s 70 years old, so he is who he is. It’s just a shame that, throughout the process, a lot of these people were in hiding and waited for the cover of the ballot to represent who they are.”
Trump won the electoral college but, with 92 percent of votes counted, was second to Hillary Clinton in the popular vote in an election in which only a little over half of those eligible to vote did so.
Rivers, the head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, seized on the bigger picture — that people have the power to change the results of the election peacefully.
“Listen, Donald Trump is going to be fine, all right, as president,” Rivers said (via USA Today). “That’s something I never thought I’d have to say, honestly. But at the end of the day he will be because I just believe America overall works. There’s a Congress and a Senate and it’s gonna work out.
“But if you don’t like it, you have two years from now to change it. Not [to change the] president, but you can change the Congress and you can change the Senate. So if you don’t like it, change it. And you change it by either running for office or voting. …
“Don’t get mad; go do something.”
Detroit Pistons Coach Stan Van Gundy, on the other hand, was extremely critical of Trump and the election, as was Steve Kerr, the Warriors coach. Van Gundy, who coaches in a state that helped tip the election in Trump’s favor, embarked on a tirade Wednesday, saying, “I don’t think anybody can deny this guy is openly and brazenly racist and misogynistic and ethnic-centric.”
“We have just thrown a good part of our population under the bus, and I have problems with thinking that this is where we are as a country,” he said (via Freep.com), adding that his players were quieter than usual because of “last night.”
The 57-year-old coach noted that he understood that voters had issues with Clinton but that Trump’s victory made him “ashamed of our country.” To Van Gundy, Trump’s comments toward women and minorities should have disqualified him from the presidency.
“Certain things in our country should disqualify you. And the fact that millions and millions of Americans don’t think that racism and sexism disqualifies you to be our leader, in our country…” Van Gundy said. “We presume to tell other countries about human-rights abuses and everything else. We better never do that again, when our leaders talk to China or anybody else about human-rights abuses.
“It’s incredible,” he continued. “I don’t know how you go about it, if you’re a person of color today or a Latino. Because white society just said to you, again — not like we haven’t forever — but again, and emphatically, that ‘I don’t think you deserve equality. We don’t think you deserve respect.’ And the same with women. That’s what we say today, as a country. We should be ashamed for what we stand for as the United States today.”
Kerr, who coaches in a state that broke heavily for Clinton, and Van Gundy work in a league in which the majority of players are African American, like in the NFL. Kerr applauded Van Gundy’s comments.
“Maybe we should’ve seen it coming over the last 10 years. You look at society; you look at what’s popular. People are getting paid millions of dollars to go on TV and scream at each other, whether it’s in sports or politics or entertainment, and I guess it was only a matter of time before it spilled into politics,” Kerr said. “But then all of a sudden you’re faced with the reality that the man who’s gonna lead you has routinely used racist, misogynist, insulting words.
Steve Kerr — "this is my rant" — for 2+ minutes on the presidential election: "Maybe we should've seen this coming" pic.twitter.com/MJOcSdXxHH
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) November 10, 2016
“That’s a tough one. That’s a tough one. I wish him well. I hope he’s a good president. I have no idea what kind of president he’ll be because he hasn’t said anything about what he’s going to do. We don’t know. But it’s tough when you want there to be some respect and dignity, and there hasn’t been any. And then you walk into a room with your daughter and your wife, who have basically been insulted by his comments, and they’re distraught. Then you walk in and see the faces of your players, most of them who have been insulted directly as minorities; it’s very shocking. It really is.”
San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich, who made headlines when he defended San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem, has also weighed in on the controversy surrounding the recent shootings of unarmed African American men and has called race in America “the elephant in the room.”
“It’s easier for white people because we haven’t lived that experience. It’s difficult for many white people to understand the day-to-day feeling that many black people have to deal with,” Popovich recently told the San Antonio media. “I didn’t talk to my kids about how to act in front of a policeman when you get stopped. I didn’t have to do that. All of my black friends have done that. There’s something that’s wrong about that, and we all know that.”
Popovich, a 67-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran, explained to ESPN’s The Undefeated this week that he credits his social consciousness to growing up in a racially diverse city in Indiana and that he values learning from other cultures.
“There is a big world out there and a whole lot of stuff going on,” Popovich told the website. “The more aware people are, the better off. For our team, since we have so many people from so many different areas, it helps us come together when they realize how big the world is.”
On Thursday, members of the Cleveland Cavaliers will visit the White House on the same day as Trump’s visit, joining President Obama in a championship tradition that will be tested, at least by NBA teams, by Trump’s time in office — unless he turns out to govern differently than he campaigned. As West indicated, NBA players are skeptical. Veteran guard Richard Jefferson sarcastically posted on Snapchat that he feels honored to be part of the “last team to visit the White House,” as others have wondered whether players or even entire teams will skip the tradition once Trump is in office.
J.R. Smith, who had campaigned for Clinton in Ohio with Cavaliers teammate LeBron James, wondered Wednesday on Instagram what he would say to his young daughters.
“How do you explain to this face what happen? You can be a educated women in your field an[d] not get the job because your a women or cause your black?” he wrote. “How do you say ‘go try your best’ even though it won’t be good enough. How do I even feel confident sending her on play dates knowing the kids family voted for the racist, sexist person an I don’t know how they will treat her when she’s gone. How? Seriously How? I understand let go and let God! But damn!”
Like Smith, New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony was considering what to tell his child.
“I talked to kids today this morning, my family, you can just hear the nervousness,” Anthony said Wednesday night (via Newsday). “They are afraid and don’t know what to think, and people don’t know what to do at this point. I think it is up to us as individuals to kind of take on that responsibility, and everybody has to lead in their own way. We can’t rely on a system or one person, and we got to move on from that.”
Anthony’s son is 9 and he was thinking about how to discuss the election with him.
“It is a conversation that we all are going to have to have with our kids,” Anthony said. “What is that conversation? That is the scary part for me, what is that conversation? . . . I am a big believer about worrying about things that you can control and in this situation, we as people have to worry about the things that we can control. We can’t control what is going to happen, but it doesn’t mean that we have to stop, just because somebody is in a position now that we may not agree with and might not like and we may not want in that position. The work has to start right now. And it is going to be even harder, but we can’t stop working.”
Westbrook on the election: pic.twitter.com/hIMgxaccXM
— Brett Dawson (@BDawsonWrites) November 9, 2016
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook preferred to let others interpret his thoughts. “I didn’t vote for Trump. I’ll tell you that much,” he said. “That’s all I’m gonna say.”
James, the vocal Clinton supporter and face of the NBA, admitted on Instagram that the election result left him “looking and searching for answers,” as he shared audio of “Alright” by rapper Kendrick Lamar.
“If we continue the faith (as hard as it may be to do so) we will BE ALRIGHT!! Parents and leaders of our children please let them know they can still change the world for the better! Don’t lose a bit of faith!” wrote James, a father of three, pledging to lead the youngsters who idolize him “every single day without no hesitation.” He concluded the post with, “Even if whos now in office doesn’t, Know that I LOVE YOU’LL!!!”
Politics came to the NFL this summer, when Kaepernick decided to remain seated or kneel during the national anthem to raise awareness of violence against African Americans and racial injustice. Kaepernick, who said he did not vote for either candidate, said he has received death threats, but he continues his protest. Others in the NFL took up the gesture or similar ones, with the Seattle Seahawks linking arms. Doug Baldwin, the son of a former police officer and a man with relatives serving in the military, was one of the leaders of the team as it decided how to protest brutality without indicting the military.
“I thought that a lot of the things that we had seen in the past few months brought up a lot of old emotions and old feelings,” he said Wednesday (via ESPN). “And in terms of growing up in the South [Florida] and being around a more conservative area, it resonated with me pretty painfully that that’s what our population wanted. That’s what the country wanted. To move in that direction, it’s disheartening.”
Baldwin has hosted police officers at the Seahawks’ facility, and he chose to focus on the fact that the divisive presidential rhetoric has opened the conversation about race.
“It was in relation to everything, especially what I’m doing, the groundwork in terms of trying to bridge the gap between police officers and the community,” Baldwin said. “At times it’s been divisive because of the conversation, because of the political conversation that we’ve had in the context of what’s going on and what has been going on with the election, and now it’s become more divisive. And so it’s discouraging at some point, but the fight must continue.
“It’s an opportunity for us as individuals to educate ourselves more, to take the opportunity to join together more and to have the conversations, the difficult conversations. Because a lot of the times, what I’ve been seeing and what I’ve been discussing with my teammates and people outside this locker room is that there’s more of a divide in this country than we wanted to admit in terms of race, in terms of all kinds of things. We’ve been trying to hide it for so long, and I think this just brings it more to the forefront. So if there’s a silver lining in it to me, it’s that this conversation about what progress truly looks like is going to continue.”
Brandon Marshall, the New York Jets wide receiver, has been one of the NFL’s most vocal advocates for increased mental-health awareness since revealing a few years ago that he has borderline personality disorder. He chose not to talk about whether he had even voted, focusing instead on the personality of the president-elect.
“The good thing about it is we have a flawed man in office leading our country who’s had some really public, nasty things go on,” he said (via the New York Daily News). “I think that’s a good thing because we put certain people and certain positions on a pedestal and we expect perfection. And that’s not the case. And I think if we all look in the mirror, we will all see someone who also has their own issues.”
Marshall, who tweeted that the locker room is not the proper place to talk politics, chose to focus on the positive.
“I just pray that he does a great job. I also pray that he leads all — not just some. That’s what I’m hopeful for,” Marshall said. “That’s his job. Obviously there’s some people that have been offended. Rightfully so. Now that he’s our president, I just pray that he leads all and not just some.”
NFL players tend to be more controversy-averse, perhaps because their contracts are not guaranteed. But Martellus Bennett, a Patriots tight end, had a message for his little girl, Jett. “Let’s color the world together, your dreams are my dreams,” he wrote on Instagram. “Together we can be the change we wish to see in the universe. We have a lot of work to do, but I think we will have help.”
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) November 10, 2016
NFL quarterbacks Rodgers and Brady preferred not to step forward on the matter. Rodgers opened his comments with humor.
“I just want to thank all the voters out there who did vote for me,” he said (via the Green Bay Press-Gazette). “I know for some people it was between me and Harambe [the Cincinnati zoo gorilla who was killed when a child fell into his pit]. I think I finished second in that vote.”
Rodgers didn’t say which candidate he selected but said he was up late watching.
“I knew it was going to be a historic night either way,” Rodgers said. “You have an outsider winning, or the first woman to be president. So I thought it was an important night for our country, and really a message to the establishment, if you’re looking at it from an objective point of view.
“I hope as a country we can now come together and work a little better with each other. Obviously, there were some people who were — rightfully so — worried about the direction of the country now, but I think it’s an important time for us that we come together and figure out how to work with each other.”
In New England, Trump brought up the regionally beloved duo of Brady and Belichick in a New Hampshire stump speech Monday, but both seemed uncomfortable with the spotlight that brought. Trump claimed that Brady, who has called Trump a friend, called to say he had voted for him. Brady’s supermodel wife, Gisele Bündchen, emphatically responded “NO!” to an Instagram user who asked whether the couple supported Trump. Her husband was only too happy to deflect Monday. “Talk to my wife,” he told reporters. “She said I can’t talk about politics anymore.”
Trump read a gushing letter from Belichick at the rally, and Belichick, in his most Belichickian way, offered a statement Wednesday, saying that he writes “hundreds of letters and notes every month. [It] doesn’t mean I agree with every single thing that every person thinks about politics, religion or other subjects.”
Because the NBA and NFL seasons are going on, their players are accessible. Baseball players have the luxury of maintaining a lower profile right now, but that didn’t keep Chicago Cubs ace pitcher Jake Arrieta from tweeting about stars who had threatened to leave America if Trump were elected.
“Time for Hollywood to pony up and head for the border,” he wrote. “#illhelpyoupack #beatit”
Cubs President Theo Epstein, who had donated to the Clinton campaign, was at the general managers’ meeting Wednesday, and he expressed support for Arrieta’s right to express himself.
“Just like our ownership group is as diverse as you can be politically. Tolerance is important, especially in a democracy,” Epstein told reporters. “The ability to have honest conversations, even if you come from a different place, a difference [in] perspective is fundamentally important.”
At some point, the Cubs will face the decision of whether to celebrate their championship with a traditional White House visit. Although Obama extended an invitation to the team to try to squeeze in a team from his home town of Chicago before he leaves office, visiting the White House may be a decision that is deferred into 2017.
For now, the Cavs are up next. They’ll meet with Obama on Thursday afternoon, just hours after Trump makes his first post-election trip to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. to talk with Obama about succession.