The NBA restarted its season on Thursday, the first games since shutting down in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, every NBA player, except one, has knelt during the national anthem.
Previously, the NBA had a rule requiring players to stand during the national anthem. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has dismissed the rule for the rebooted season due to the nationwide protests against police brutality and racism.
“I respect our teams’ unified act of peaceful protest for social justice and under these unique circumstances will not enforce our long-standing rule requiring standing during the playing of our national anthem,” Silver said on Thursday.
On Friday, Kerr defended the kneeling protests and addressed critics who don’t support players kneeling during the national anthem.
“With NBA games now in full force, the inevitable race baiting ‘kneeling is a sign of disrespect!’ tweets are coming,” Kerr tweeted. “Our message is clear: We love our country. And we also believe that this nation can and must do better to eliminate racism and bigotry. That is why we kneel.”
Twitter users were quick to point out Kerr’s silence regarding China’s human rights abuses.
Kerr was mocked by conservative commentator Stephen Miller, who replied, “Steve, I speak for all Americans when I say we’re just relieved China has given you permission to once again speak out on important social and human rights abuses.”
National Review contributor Pradheep J. Shanker inquired, “Cool. You ready to speak out against China yet…or nah?”
Curtis Houck, Managing Editor at Newsbusters, asked, “Now how about ‘do[ing] better to eliminate racism and bigotry’ in China? Or do the concentration camps there not matter?”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) proposed that Kerr and NBA players respect the American flag.
“Here’s a better idea: stand for the anthem, to honor our Nation & the heroes who died for our freedom,” Cruz responded. “And then support school choice by donating 10% of your salaries for scholarships for low-income children to attend excellent schools.”
Noam Blum, Tablet Magazine associate editor, asked, “Any word on ESPN’s expose of your training program in Xinjiang or nah?”
The tweet was a reference to a bombshell report in ESPN that exposed violence in the NBA’s training academies in China. The report features testimony from anonymous American coaches who were employed at the NBA training academies, including one in the Xinjiang province where more than a million Uighur Muslims are imprisoned.
The report alleges that young players were physically abused by Chinese coaches and were not provided proper schooling, despite Silver promising that education would be “central” to the program.
“Imagine you have a kid who’s 13, 14 years old, and you’ve got a grown coach who is 40 years old hitting your kid,” a coach told ESPN. “We’re part of that. The NBA is part of that.”
The NBA specifically told the coaches not to reveal the abuse.
In a recent Washington Post interview, Kerr said he regretted not defending Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey when he was in hot water for supporting pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.
Kerr spoke with Candace Buckner, a “sports reporter focusing on the intersection of race, gender and diversity issues in the world of sports.” The interview was for an article on white NBA coaches and social justice.
Kerr’s admittance that he was wrong in not supporting Morey’s free speech did not make it into the article, but Buckner shared it on Twitter.
Buckner asked Kerr if it is “burdensome” to speak out about political issues. “I haven’t always handled it well,” Kerr replied, and then mentioned the Morey incident. “I handled it really poorly.”
“I was frankly sort of tongue tied,” the Warriors coach continued. “I’m sitting there trying to figure out what I’m supposed to say to make sure I don’t put the league in jeopardy but also trying to find the right balance and I realize it was probably the one time over the years when I haven’t just spoken my heart and I sort of got caught in this political hail storm. It was very uncomfortable because it wasn’t a topic I was very comfortable with and the circumstances were really strange.”
“I’ve learned of the last four years since I’ve been… [outspoken] the questions aren’t always easy,” he revealed. “If you follow your gut and your heart, you generally just speak your truth and you’re going to feel good about it afterwards. That’s the one episode where I walked away shaking my head saying, ‘What the hell was that?'”
Kerr was asked what he would do differently.
“Well I would first of all back up Daryl,” Kerr replied. “I would just say Daryl, has a right, as an American, to free speech. He can say anything he wants and we should support him in that and that’s the main message. And then if you want to get into the depths of a really complex issue (chuckles) then you can have a conversation.”
The NBA is allowing players to select a message that will be displayed on the backs of their jerseys. The list of 29 approved social and political messages includes “Black Lives Matter,” “How Many More,” “Power to the People,” “I Can’t Breathe,” and “Anti-Racist.”
Hawley wrote a letter to Silver, which asked why there were no phrases “in support of victims of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), including the people of Hong Kong, whose remaining freedoms are being extinguished by the CCP’s newly-enacted national security law.” Hawley challenged Silver to allow NBA players to stand up for the Uighur Muslims who are being held in Chinese internment camps.
ESPN reporter Adrian Wojnarowski lashed out at Hawley by cursing at the Missouri senator. Wojnarowski apologized and was suspended by ESPN for two weeks for the outburst.