Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy penned an open letter for Time magazine this week, offering support to the NFL players protesting for racial equality and justice, calling them "patriots of the highest order." Van Gundy noted that people have made the protests about the flag and are taking away from the real issues of racism and oppression.
In the great tradition of the civil rights movement, these athletes are using non-violent, peaceful protest to work toward specific changes they want to see in their communities and their country. Because of this "controversy," people are forgetting what these protestors are trying to change. It's important for us to talk about it every day until it resonates, until change happens. Their demands are important, and today, I am adding my voice in support.
Van Gundy also echoed the words of fellow NBA coach Gregg Popovich, about the difference between nationalism and patriotism; blindly defending a country or caring enough about it to reform and create necessary changes.
We should never forget that this country was founded by protesters. Our founding fathers declared independence from Great Britain because they were dissatisfied with the laws and policies that they believed abridged their freedoms. Had they taken the stance that many want our professional athletes to take — to just shut up and honor your country no matter what — we would be living in British colonies.
The Pistons coach also outlined the protesting athletes' specific desires, many of which have been overlooked by allegations, including from the White House, that the players simply aren't patriotic. Thanking the NFL Players Coalition, an unofficial group of more than 40 players dedicated to social activism, for accompanying protests with actual community engagement, Van Gundy listed all the goals of the protests, each of them supported with statistics on equality:
Ameliorating harsh sentencing guidelines and ending mandatory minimum sentencesEnacting clean slate lawsEliminating cash bailReforming juvenile justice ending police brutality and racial bias in police departments
The protest began in 2016 when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first sat then knelt during the national anthem to protest racism, oppression, and police brutality. His demonstrations were followed by teammates and soon spread to dozens of other NFL players and even people outside of the league. Remarks from President Donald Trump calling for NFL owners to fire "son of bi--h" players who protested, ended up revitalizing the protest with hundreds of players either kneeling, raising a fist or staying off the field during pregame anthems.
Since then the league has met and is putting together future meetings to work on issues in the community that inspired the protest.