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J.R. Smith demonstrates during national anthem

New York Knicks v Sacramento Kings

SACRAMENTO, CA - MARCH 26: J.R. Smith #8 of the New York Knicks stands for the National Anthem before their game against the Sacramento Kings at Sleep Train Arena on March 26, 2014 in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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David West has stood a few feet behind his teammates during the national anthem for years.

J.R. Smith made a similar demonstration.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith stood a few feet behind his teammates for the national anthem prior to the team’s scrimmage Monday night at The Q.

The reason, he said, was because “I don’t feel like the flag represents what it’s supposed to at this point.

“We obviously didn’t discuss what we were going to do as a team, and I definitely, I don’t feel, it’s not an easy situation for me with the national anthem,” Smith said Friday, following the Cavs’ morning shootaround. “Especially coming from where I come from, it’s just not. I don’t feel like it’s represented the right way, obviously it’s a tough conversation for everybody, and it still needs to be, I wouldn’t say talked about, because there’s been a lot of conversations about it, it’s time to start doing. What efforts are we going to put towards it?”


I’m not sure this qualifies as a “protest,” a la Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem. Smith’s positioning doesn’t demand attention (though someone clearly noticed to ask him about it), and he’s not voicing a specific reasoning for his action.

Still, in the aftermath of Kaepernick kneeling, national-anthem protests have focused on minority rights and particularly police treatment of blacks. Smith had to know his demonstration would get grouped into the rest. I suspect he’s referencing similar issues.

Smith can stand wherever he wants during the anthem (though the NBA might punish him if he sits or kneels). He doesn’t need to explain himself further.

But if he wants to advance the conversation or bring attention to issues, he must explain why he’s standing apart. Otherwise, this is merely a small step from the forms of benign demonstration we’ve already seen from NBA players.