It is no secret that our country has been divided during this national election, with Trump and Clinton splitting the popular vote almost 50/50. What is a little more surprising, however, is the contrast between the NFL and the NBA’s responses to the election’s results. The NFL and NBA share roughly the same racial makeup, with 68-74 percent of their rosters comprised of African Americans. Many of the NBA’s coaches and former players have spoken out about their dissatisfaction (or in some cases, downright outrage), over Trump’s win.
On Wednesday, November 9 immediately following the election, Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy spoke out. “We just elected an openly, brazen misogynist leader and we should keep our mouths shut and realize that we need to be learning maybe from the rest of the world, because we don’t got anything to teach anybody,” Gundy said. “Its embarrassing. I have been ashamed of a lot of things that have happened in this country, but I can’t say I’ve ever been ashamed of our country until today. Until today. We all have to find our way to move forward, but that was — and I’m not even trying to make a political statement. To me, that’s beyond politics.”
Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr and the San Antonio Spurs’ Gregg Poppovich relayed similar messages. “It’s tough when you want there to be some respect and dignity and there hasn’t been any,” Kerr said “And then you walk into a room with your daughter and your wife, who’ve basically been insulted by [Trump’s] comments, and they’re distraught. And you walk in and you see the faces of your players, most of them who have been insulted directly as minorities, it’s sort of shocking.”
“We live in a country that ignored all of those values that we would hold our kids accountable for,” said Popovich. “They’d be grounded for years if they acted and said the things that have been said in that campaign by Donald Trump.”
What’s even more interesting, is that the NBA published all of these comments in a statement that was released on November 14. The organization publicized views that could potentially lead to isolating and angering a portion of its fanbase. Compare that to the response of many NFL coaches and the contrast is stark.
At a rally in New Hampshire the Monday before the election, Trump read a personal letter from New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, that praised the then presidential nominee’s campaign. “You’ve proved to be the ultimate competitor and fighter,” wrote Belichick. “Your leadership is amazing. I have always had tremendous respect for you, but the toughness and perseverance you have displayed over the past year is remarkable.”
While political views are understandably generally barred from professional coaches day-to-day public speech, the divisiveness of this election became too distressing for many NBA coaches to bear, especially given the diverse, ethnicities, upbringings and socioeconomic backgrounds they have on their courts. NFL coaches responded differently. Whatever your political views, the platform and influence professional athletics has in this country is undeniable. In a world that has become increasingly polarized, professional athletic associations will have to pick sides. They will have to decide the role that they want to play.