NBA coach slams 'idiotic' NFL anthem stance

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr on Thursday called the NFL’s decision to implement a rule against players kneeling during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before games “idiotic,” criticising the league’s owners and leadership for “pandering to [its] fan base” with a display of “fake patriotism” that’s intended to divide rather than unite.

Why is Steve Kerr criticising the NFL?

Kerr — who has become one of the NBA’s most prominent voices on social and political issues, focusing primarily on the scourge of gun violence in America, but also frequently expressing his disagreements with the election, policies and “divisiveness” of President Donald Trump — answered a question on the matter during the Warriors’ shootaround ahead of Thursday night’s Game 5 of the Western Conference finals between Golden State and the Houston Rockets:

“It’s just typical of the NFL,” Kerr said. “They’re just playing to their fan base. Basically just trying to use the anthem as fake patriotism, nationalism, scaring people. It’s idiotic. But that’s how the NFL has conducted their business.”

“I’m proud to be in a league that understands patriotism in America is about free speech and peacefully protesting,” he continued. “Our leadership in the NBA understands when the NFL players were kneeling, they were kneeling to protest police brutality, to protest racial inequality. They weren’t disrespecting the flag or the military. But our president decided to make it about that and the NFL followed suit, pandered to their fan base, created this hysteria.”

Kerr is never one to back down from a political issue. Pic: Getty

What led to the NFL changing its rules about the national anthem?
Kerr’s referring to the president’s inflammatory comments from last September, when he asked attendees at a rally in Alabama if they’d “love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired.’” That sparked a new round of demonstrations from NFL players and teams, and helped make the topic of protests during the anthem — not necessarily of the reasons the players were protesting, mind you, but the matter of whether players who did so were being “insufficiently patriotic” and “disrespecting the flag” — into a season-long issue.

With Wednesday’s announcement of a new rule that gives players the option of staying in the locker room during the national anthem if they don’t wish to stand during the ceremonies, but subjects franchises whose players and team employees are on the field and don’t stand to fines from the league, the NFL appeared to try to offer something for everyone — freedom to refrain from standing for the players, and the promise of discipline for those who view the players’ protests as disrespectful. On this score, the league appears to have failed. Players reportedly view the “compromise” with contempt, and Trump went on television on Thursday morning to say that players who opt to remain in the locker room rather than coming out and standing “maybe […] shouldn’t be in the country.”

“It’s kind of what’s wrong with our country right now,” Kerr said Thursday. “People in high places are trying to divide us, divide loyalties, make this about the flag as if the flag is something than what it really is, which is a representation of what we’re about, which is diversity, peaceful protests, right to free speech. It’s ironic, actually.”

This isn’t the first time Kerr has taken the NFL to task on the issue of protests during the anthem. During an interview last year on the political podcast “Pod Save America,” he said he believed former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had been blackballed by the NFL over his decision first to sit, and then to kneel, during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before NFL games during the 2016 preseason in protest of police brutality against and oppression of black people and other people of color.

“I think a lot of the NFL fans are truly angry at Kaepernick, and I think owners are worried about what it’s going to do to business,” Kerr said.