NBA Coach: Athletes Who Protest Are 'Patriots of the Highest Order'

"Honoring America has to mean much, much more than standing at attention for a song," Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy writes

The New Orleans Saints kneel before the playing of the national anthem before the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on October 22, 2017 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Credit: Dylan Buell/Getty Images

In an article for Time magazine, Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy calls athletes who speak out on social issues such as racial injustice "patriots of the highest order." Van Gundy cites Muhammad Ali, Colin Kaepernick, Tommie Smith and John Carlos as examples of athletes who risked future opportunities because they felt "duty-bound" to stand up for what they believed in.

"After reading the book Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, I invited its author, the acclaimed scholar and expert on race Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, to come talk to our team," Van Gundy writes. "He discussed the difference between nationalism and patriotism, and it stuck with me. Nationalism, he said, is supporting your country no matter what, right or wrong. Patriotism, on the other hand, is caring so deeply about your country that you take it as your duty to hold it accountable to its highest values and to fight to make it the very best it can be."

"Under this definition," Van Gundy continues, "these athletes and coaches are role models of American patriotism."

Van Gundy, who has been a coach in the NBA for about 20 years, says he has an obligation as a citizen to speak out in a time when "bigotry seems on the rise and commitment to racial equality on the decline." Like fellow NBA coaches Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr, Van Gundy has been critical of Donald Trump in the past, calling him "openly and brazenly racist and misogynistic" the day after he was elected President of the United States. He mentioned Trump directly in his op-ed, referencing his opinion that NFL players who protest during the national anthem should be fired.

"Honoring America has to mean much, much more than standing at attention for a song (one which, by the way, contains racist language in later verses). One of the most important freedoms that our military has fought for over two-plus centuries is the freedom of speech. When these professional athletes protest during the anthem, they are exercising one of the very freedoms for which our military men and women fought so valiantly, thus honoring our highest values and, in turn, those who have fought for them."

Van Gundy finishes his piece by saying he supports these athletes and that we should "all join them in ensuring their collective voice is heard." Rather than living lives of luxury, Van Gundy writes, they are risking their jobs to speak up and make America "live up to its stated ideals."

Read the essay in its entirety here.