Popovich explained that, as a white man coaching black players, understanding their background is an important part of his job.
“It would bring you to tears,” Popovich said of the emotion in recent calls among Spurs players and staff. “It’s even deeper than you thought, and that’s what really made me start to think: You’re a privileged son of a b----, and you still don’t get it as much as you think you do. You got to work harder. You got to be more aware. You got to be pushed and embarrassed. You’ve got to call it out.”
That stance is partly why Popovich turned his attention to Jones and Kraft, two of seven NFL owners who donated at least $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee while simultaneously running franchises that rely on mostly black players. That combination doesn’t mesh well with Popovich.
“It’s just hypocritical,” Popovich said. “It’s incongruent. It doesn’t make sense. People aren’t blind. Do you go to your staff and your players and talk about injustices and democracy and how to protest? I don’t get it. I think they put themselves in a position that’s untenable.”
As protests over social inequality and police brutality have taken place throughout the country, there has been renewed scrutiny of the NFL and its owners with regard to their treatment of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who began the player protest movement in 2016 and has been out of the league since that season ended.
Weeks after kneeling with his entire team before the national anthem early in the 2017 season, Jones said any Cowboys players “disrespecting the flag” during the anthem would not play for his team.
Trump was — and still is — highly critical of those who kneel during the anthem. On Saturday, he tweeted that he would not watch the NFL or the U.S. national soccer teams if players protest during the anthem. NFL owners approved a policy in 2018 hoping to quell any anthem protests; that policy was put on hold a few months later after the players’ union filed a grievance.
Popovich believes Goodell originally capitulated to the desires of Trump and the NFL owners.
“He got intimidated when Trump jumped on the kneeling,” Popovich told the Times, adding that Goodell “folded.”
“A smart man is running the NFL, and he didn’t understand the difference between the flag and what makes the country great — all the people who fought to allow Kaepernick to have the right to kneel for justice,” Popovich said. “The flag is irrelevant. It’s just a symbol that people glom onto for political reasons, just like [former vice president Dick] Cheney back in the Iraq War.”
This month, Goodell admitted the NFL’s wrongdoing in not taking a more open-minded approach with the players who protested during the national anthem.
“We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people,” Goodell said in a video released by the NFL. “We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter.”
In a video released by the Spurs last weekend, Popovich said he was “embarrassed as a white person” by the nonchalant manner in which now-former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, leading to his death. That moment led to marches for racial equality and against police brutality across the United States and around the world.
Popovich recently criticized the president for his lack of leadership and his inability to unite a nation in pain following Floyd’s death. The three-time NBA coach of the year called the president a “deranged idiot,” a “fool” and a “destroyer.”
“It’s unbelievable,” Popovich told the Nation. “If Trump had a brain, even if it was 99 percent cynical, he would come out and say something to unify people. But he doesn’t care about bringing people together. Even now. That’s how deranged he is. It’s all about him. It’s all about what benefits him personally. It’s never about the greater good. And that’s all he’s ever been.”