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Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy called athletes who protest during the United States national anthem to call attention to social injustice “brave and patriotic.”
Van Gundy argued in a Time commentary piece released Tuesday that those athletes are using their freedom of speech to spotlight an important topic:
“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.”
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the trend of refusing to stand for the anthem during the 2016 NFL preseason. On Monday, he was named Citizen of the Year by GQ for his efforts to spark conversation about racial inequality.
The issue was brought back to the forefront in September when U.S. President Donald Trump suggested NFL owners should fire players who don’t stand for the anthem.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said before the 2017-18 season he expected all players to remain standing during the song.
“It’s been a rule as long as I’ve been involved with the league, and my expectation is that our players will continue to stand for the anthem,” he told reporters.
While no member of Van Gundy’s Pistons roster has opted to kneel, he wrote he’ll support any athlete who uses their place in the public spotlight to push for change:
“I stand with these athletes—in support of both these causes and their patriotism. I hope others will join me in supporting them. These athletes could take the easy route and not place their livelihoods at risk by standing up for what they believe in. They’ve put in their hard work. They could accept their paychecks and live lives of luxury. Instead, they are risking their jobs to speak up for those who have no voice. They are working to make America live up to its stated ideals. We should all join them in ensuring their collective voice is heard.”
Van Gundy added Americans should “never forget that this country was founded by protesters” and noted individuals shouldn’t “be permitted to feel comfortable while trampling the rights of others.”
A CNN poll released in September showed 49 percent of respondents called kneeling for the anthem the “wrong thing” to do, while 43 percent said it’s the “right thing.”