Steve Kerr made a bunch of sense Wednesday, which is not news. In fact, as he is probably one of 29 NBA coaches who would say the same things he did, this is especially not news.
And we say 29 only because there is never unanimity on any subject, ever. We Americans believe the 28th Amendment defends the right to argue about anything.
But Kerr was asked at Wednesday’s Warriors pre-camp presser about today's athletes and their greater willingness to speak on social issues, so he did. He explained Colin Kaepernick, the current disconnect between many black people and the police who choose to go street justice as opposed to actual policing, and the right of American citizens to not only protest, but choose the way to infuse that protest with life.
And since Kerr was a certified thinker long before he became head coach of the Golden State Warriors, it only figured that (a) he would have known this question was coming weeks ago and (b) he would have an answer that showed more than the usual coachly disengagement.
Frankly, he was so pointedly thoughtful that it makes you wonder if he might not end up becoming the first coach to join an anthem protest.
“Probably one of the best things that’s come out of the Kaepernick issue is that people are talking. It’s a good thing,” Kerr told a gaggle of reporters, including Comrade Poole. “No matter what side of the spectrum you’re on, I would hope that every American is disgusted with what is going on around the country. And it just happened two days ago in Tulsa with Terence Crutcher (who was shot and killed by a policeman over the weekend). It doesn’t matter what side you’re on with the Kaepernick stuff, you’d better be disgusted by the things that are happening.
“I understand people who are offended by his stance. Maybe they have a military family member, who is offended. Maybe they lost somebody in a war, and that flag and the anthem means a lot more to them than to someone else. But then you flip it around and ... ‘What about non-violent protest?’ It’s America. This is what our country is about it. It’s non-violent protest. It’s what it should be about.”
Therein lies the Kaepernick message – defining symbols rather than behavior as the measure of patriotism. Not standing for the anthem is somehow valued as more offensive by some than not standing for the rights of the citizens whom the anthem represents.
But in many ways, that is yesterday’s message. Kaepernick has disarmed much of the debate over the right to protest, and the rest of the debate has been rekindled not by Kaepernick but by the Crutcher shooting. And to the extent that it is Kerr’s issue to discuss, he has already spoken with several of his players about the tone and tenor of whatever protests they plan to conduct once their season begins next month.
But Kerr’s own stance was not explored Wednesday, maybe because that is one step beyond what we are used to considering ourselves. Players represent themselves at times like that, while coaches are part of “the organization,” not part of the playing fraternity, and thus not only would be stepping outside their traditional roles but also have a corporate line to constantly heed.
In addition, coaches are more attuned to chain of command issues, and don’t normally step out of their assigned roles as managers. Kerr’s affinity with his players is considered closer than most, but his personal opinion on this issue sparks the question, “What if he were to take a knee, metaphorically or otherwise?”
There would of course be a measure of public hell to pay. Words like “team distraction,” “self-indulgence” and “blurred lines of authority” would be co-mingled with the usual “unpatriotic,” “disrespectful” and "dishonor,” and in Kerr’s case, the death of his father Malcolm by a member of Islamic Jihad would be used as a rhetorical weapon against him.
Indeed, the number of awkward positions this would place him in might be more than sufficient to dissuade Kerr from joining any protest, organized or individual, his players might deem proper given the tenor of the times.
But we at least have his words from Wednesday, and the attitude from which they sprang. He sees nothing noble in bad policemen, emphasis on the “bad,” and nothing good in law and order that ignores the law and makes a mockery of the order. Whether or not he takes on a visible protest stance in concert with his players is almost beside the point, because that, too, is a symbol. Knowing what he believes and feels comfortable saying is sufficiently instructive.
For now. Neither he, nor we, should make any assumptions about the future.