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He is a credentialed NBA star, with enough personal wealth to choose achievement over dollars, the conviction to stand on principle and such an acute cultural awareness that he’s simply unable to tune out the despair gripping much of America.
David West has deep concerns and many questions.
It’s not that he questions himself and everything he was taught and remains committed to teaching others. The Warriors forward, 36, has seen inequality, up close, yet still continues to believe in the human spirit and its capacity to overcome.
Though he clearly is disturbed by the wave of crude belligerence represented by our latest president, Donald Trump, inaugurated only days ago, what’s more distressing to West is the transparent bigotry and misogyny, which points up the rampant ignorance behind his rise.
“He brought out an element of our society that a lot of folks assumed was dead,” West said on the CSN Bay Area Warriors Insider Podcast. “A lot of folks assumed that that part of our country was no longer, based on the election of President Obama. But what Donald Trump did was, he reached for a demographic of people who responded to some of the most infantile, non-decent language that you could expect coming from a president candidate. Folks bit.”
West didn’t bite. Didn’t even think about biting. No, he’s going the opposite way.
He’s going to fight the fight. The married father of two is going to do it by flexing his mind more than his imposing 6-foot-9, 250-pound physique.
He’s going to stand with the millions of women who marched over the weekend. He’s going to stand with the millions of people who feel their quest for justice is endangered. He’s going to stand with those whose health care is in peril. He’s going to stand with those who understand that science telling us that climate changes is a grave global threat.
West is going to stand for truth and fairness and courtesy, even if he is uncertain whether the president sending out angry tweets and advocating “alternative facts” will be standing at his side.
“All the tactics that he used to get elected are the very things that someone like me, who works with youth on a consistent basis, are the things that we try to talk our young folks out of being,” West said. “We try to talk our young people out of being bullies. We try to talk our young men out of disrespecting women. We try to talk our young people into being accepting of other people’s opinions and other people’s walks of life.
“And he is the complete opposite of all of that.”
West, who earned his degree in communications from Xavier University in 2003, studies people of all stripes, from the great philosophers such as Nietzsche and Plato, to his coaches and the youngsters he mentors. He has a passion for knowledge as well as a profound appreciation for others with similar pursuits. Moreover, he believes in first-hand involvement.
So he involves himself in issues pertinent to gaining knowledge and investing -- financially, emotionally and intellectually -- in the future. He examines reality and how it relates to such issues as the infant mortality rate, the hypocrisy contained within United States Constitution and the tenuous dynamic between law enforcement and people of color.
West doesn’t stop there. He is a crusader for human rights. He has made multiple visits to Africa to peel back the layers of those who inhabit the continent. He is acutely attuned to matters of climate change; he’s the lone athlete/celebrity on the advisory board of Zoetic Global, an American-based group devoted to clean-energy technology, specifically hyperkinetic turbines.
West is, in the vernacular, “woke.”
He vocalized full support for 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose very public attempts to shine a light on the frequency of deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of law enforcement.
There was considerable outrage over Kaepernick’s perceived disrespect of the flag as a symbol for the country when his actual cause is a plea for fairness.
“And people are too one-sided, too one-dimensional in their thought process, to get to that,” West said. “So all they saw him doing was a physical gesture. All they saw him doing was taking a knee.
“The issue, when we get to the basis of all this, is that there is a group of people who want justice -- people who want justice. And regardless of opposite or opposing views, justice should be just. And it should be for everyone. And when that environment doesn’t exist or is not readily available in terms of what we’re witnessing, then people are going to have things to say.”
Asked about the value of and prevalence with which sports celebrities speak up, as Kaepernick did, West offered an enlightening response.
“I’m not sure that the athletes, in terms of a collective group, are in a position, in terms of information, to take the type of stand that Colin took,” he said. “That’s kind of what gets lost in the interpretation as well. Folks see him, and if you’ve ever listened to Colin speak or if you ever followed him, he has a large information base. And I think it’s unfair to assume that other pro athletes have that same base.
“That’s very important, because what we have now, on the flip side, is very low-information athletes or former athletes who do speak up and who say things, who should not be saying anything at all.”
As for those NBA authority figures, such as Warriors coach Steve Kerr and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, comfortable with sociopolitical dialogue openly and from a knowledgeable perspective, West expresses gratitude for their words and effort.
“Those guys are different,” he says, “because they take the time to become a little bit more understanding of the guys they are around most of the year.
“Steve wants to know how we feel about what popped up on the news yesterday or the day before, about what’s going on because all of that plays a part who you are.”
As irritated as West is with the disrespect frequently shown to former President Barack Obama, the nation’s first black commander-in-chief, he was pleased with Obama’s ability to reply with “dignity and class” under sometimes trying conditions.
We have elected in Trump someone who West, putting it mildly, “somebody who’s not as nuanced in dealing with folks.”
West is among a select group of high-profile athletes to speak openly of his concern about Trump. Knicks center Joakim Noah expressed his discontent, as has Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and former 49ers receiver Torrey Smith.
West, however, is among the elder statesmen of American athletes. And someone who puts his mind and time where his heart is. So, there remains at least . . . hope.
“We’re just in for a very different type of administration, where we’ve got to brace for a different type of leadership, unlike anything this country has ever seen,” he said of Trump. “For a lot of folks, they’re just trying to see what he’s going to do next. What’s going to happen? Some of the things he’s said, the things that he’s backed up, the things he’s projected of himself out onto the world, I don’t think anybody expected him to be able to get elected to such a prestigious and powerful seat in this country.
“I don’t know how you balance it. We all have to just wait and see. Folks inside the political system, who are tasked with the job of keeping him in check and keeping him under control, we’ve got to hold their feet to the fire.”