TORONTO — This past weekend, the sports world got a surprising injection of politics when U.S. President Donald Trump blasted NFL players for taking knees during the anthem. In response, we saw teams deciding not to come out for the anthem, players locking arms and other gestures of solidarity against Trump’s message.
NBA players have been quick to support their football-playing peers. The Golden State Warriors said they didn’t want to visit the White House (Trump subsequently rescinded the invitation) and stars like LeBron James spoke out against the president on Twitter.
On Monday, during their official media day— an event that’s normally a very light-hearted affair— the Toronto Raptors weighed in on the weekend’s happenings.
Here’s what Raptors president Masai Ujiri, head coach Dwane Casey, and all-star guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry had to say:
The topic of Trump and athlete protest hit close to home for Casey.
Having lived through the tumultuous civil-rights movement era of the 1960s, Casey said that Trump wanting to silence athletes from speaking out is “hurtful.”
“I talked to so many people [Sunday] about [athlete demonstration] and it’s unfortunate that people can even question whether an athlete should have first-amendment rights,” said Casey, who Living through the tumultuous civil-rights movement era of the 1960s. “And coming from our president it’s hurtful…”
“That’s what the U.S. was built on, protest. I came through the ’60s and ’70s and it’s eerily getting back to that if we’re not careful. And that’s why we want to take away the divisive words and let’s be inclusive. Whether you’re Canadian, Mexican, it doesn’t matter. Let’s be together.”
Casey said he was proud of the NBA for stepping up and showing support the way it did this weekend.
“Adam [Silver, league commissioner] talked to us last week at the coaches meeting about players having an opportunity to be able to speak and have their first-amendment rights, and he encourages that. That says a lot about Adam, that says a lot about our league, that says a lot about pro sports, in general.”
“Again, it hurts because the majority of players are minorities, and it’s almost like ‘You have a right to entertain us but you don’t have a right to be able to speak up about something.’ And that hurts me because I’ve come through that, I’ve come through segregation.”
Interestingly enough, despite the angst Casey feels over some of Trump’s comments, he still believes that the president should be respected.
“I preach to my kids: You don’t disrespect the flag, you don’t disrespect the country; The office of the presidency, it stands for something. You respect authority, you respect the work that the policemen do in life. But if you feel strongly about something, you have the right to speak up about it.”
“I feel no player is trying to disrespect nobody, no flag, or anything like that, but we seem to be the ones to get all the disrespect from our so-called leader. It sucks when you see that. Especially when you have kids that you wanna raise in a country that’s supposed to be the greatest country in the world. But you’ve got your president on Twitter more than a 12-year-old saying the most outrageous things [about] people trying to do something right. It’s crazy.”
DeRozan says he and the team plans to get together and show some gesture of protest, though not necessarily taking a knee.
DeRozan spoke out on social injustice at media day this time last year and took the opportunity to do so again on Monday, drawing back to personal experiences:
“I’ve had friends killed by police officers a couple days after just being at my house,” he said. “When I was young, and even recently. And it sucks, because even myself, you can drive a nice car and I’m still being questioned: How’d you get this car? Do you do this? Do you do that? And it’s not fair.”
DeRozan also opened up about what he went through growing up in Compton, California during the O.J. Simpson trials and the seeming mistrust between people in his neighbourhood and the LAPD.
“It’s the way we grew up. We were hiding or running from something, even if you didn’t do anything, just because you didn’t wanna get hassled or get harassed. It’s crazy, when I think about it.”
When it was Lowry’s turn, he came out with a clear message that given their large platform, athletes should never just stick to sports.
“We aren’t just athletes,” he said, “We are human beings first. The people that are saying we should just be athletes, they bleed just like us. I’m very talented and very blessed to be able to play in the NBA [but] it doesn’t mean I’m not sophisticated enough to have a conversation about political situations, or what’s going on in the world— social injustices, police brutality and all of that.”
No matter what the Raptors decide to do in response to Trump’s comments on pro-athlete protest and the Warriors semi-feud with the president, Ujiri wants you to know one thing:
“I’m 110 per cent behind our players,” he said. “I can guarantee you one thing, nobody’s getting fired here. They have a platform. There’s nobody getting fired.”
Yes, no matter what, Ujiri will have his players’ backs. It’s something that comes as a relief, multiple players said, but shouldn’t come as a surprise considering how he also said he supported the the reaction Stephen Curry and James had to Trump recently.
“I think they stood up,” he said. “They stood up for our league. I think the NBA is the most prominent league in the world now, and these guys stand up and speak.”
He also heaped praise about how “special” Canada is and being in Canada is, mentioning he’d be good fine paying a visit to the Prime Minister.
“When we win a championship, we will deal with that issue. We’ll deal with that issue. I think we’ve got to got to two White Houses, right? If we one day win a championship. I think we’ll be fine with [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau.”