The Pistons head coach wrote a powerful op-ed for TIME magazine Tuesday in which he applauds the growing number of athletes who have put their job security at stake by fighting against racism and social injustice through national anthem protests. On Monday, he was named Citizen of the Year by GQ for his efforts to spark conversation about racial inequality.
"Honoring America has to mean much, much more than standing at attention for a song", Van Gundy wrote.
"One of the most important freedoms that our military has fought for over two-plus centuries is the freedom of speech". Van Gundy noted that President Trump has sharply attacked the protests, including calling for National Football League players to stand or lose their jobs, and he mentioned Popovich and Kerr as having taken heat for their criticism of Trump. "When these professional athletes protest during the anthem, they are exercising one of the very freedoms for which our military men and women fought so valiantly, thus honoring our highest values and, in turn, those who have fought for them".
Van Gundy claimed that the USA was "founded by protesters" who felt that Great Britain's laws and policies "abridged their freedoms". He writes about how he's broached the subject of racial justice with his team and touches on the historical context of protest as a catalyst for change in America, not despite the fact that it often makes people uncomfortable but because it does so. Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich seem to be the ones who grab the most headlines, especially when it comes to Donald Trump, but guys like Stan Van Gundy have also used their platform to advance a social agenda. Those changes, according to the coach, are "focused on criminal justice reform" and include: changing harsh sentencing guidelines and eliminating mandatory minimum sentences; enacting clean slate laws; eliminating cash bail; reforming juvenile justice; and ending police brutality and racial bias in police departments. "I hope others will join me in supporting them".
"These athletes could take the easy route and not [have] placed their livelihoods at risk by standing up for what they believe in".
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. They could accept their paychecks and live lives of luxury.