Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr criticized the NFL’s new policy that requires players on the field to stand during the national anthem or risk having their teams fined if they choose to protest during the song. Kerr’s criticism was echoed by some NFL players who ripped the league and President Donald Trump’s comments about the policy.
League owners approved a plan on Wednesday that requires players to stand during the anthem. Players who do not wish to participate in the anthem ceremony can remain in the locker room, with no penalty to the team. But if a player sits, kneels, raises a fist or otherwise protests during the song on the field, the team will be fined. In addition, the team can fine the player directly.
“I think it is just typical of the NFL,” Kerr said Thursday at the Warriors’ shootaround in Houston in advance of Thursday night’s Game 5 of their NBA playoff series with the Rockets. “They’re just playing to their fan base and they’re basically trying to use the anthem as fake patriotism, nationalism, scaring people. It’s idiotic, but that’s how the NFL has handled their business.”
The NBA has had a longstanding requirement that players stand for the anthem before games. However, many of the league’s players and some coaches, including Kerr and San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, have frequently discussed social issues and have criticized Trump, who Thursday morning supported the NFL’s new policy. During an interview with “Fox & Friends” on Fox News, Trump said he agreed with the league’s new anthem requirements, but stopped short of a full endorsement.
“I don’t think people should be staying in locker rooms, but I still think it’s good,” Trump said. “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem, or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there, maybe you shouldn’t be in the country. You have to stand proudly for the national anthem, and the NFL owners did the right things if that’s what they’ve done.”
Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall said Thursday that Trump’s comments were “disgusting.’’ Marshall kneeled during the anthem for eight games in 2016 and one game last season.
“I say disgusting because of our First Amendment rights,’’ Marshall told reporters. “We’ve got freedom of speech, right? Freedom to protest — just because somebody chooses to protest, now we’ve got to be kicked out of the country? That’s not how things should work, in my opinion. It’s not about, just because somebody disagrees with something, if I don’t stand for the anthem, if I don’t like what’s going on, that’s basically him saying I should be kicked out the country.”
Kerr said he is “proud to be in a league that understands patriotism in America, is about free speech and about peacefully protesting. I think 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. The NFL followed suit, pandered to their fan base, created this hysteria. This is kind of what’s wrong with our country right now. People in high places are trying to divide us, divide loyalties, make this about the flag, as if the flag is something other than what it really is.”
Kerr said he believes the flag “is a representation of what we’re really about, which is diversity, and peaceful protest and right to free speech. It’s really ironic actually what the NFL is doing.”
Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin, speaking after a team practice on Thursday, called Trump “an idiot, plain and simple. I respect the man because he’s a human being, but he’s just being more divisive. For him to say that anybody who doesn’t follow his viewpoints should be kicked out of the country, it’s not very empathetic, it’s not very American-like, it’s not very patriotic. It’s not what this country is founded upon. It’s kind of ironic that the president of the United States is contradicting what our country is really built on.”
Baldwin said the new policy might actually increase protests after it appeared the incidence of players demonstrating during the anthem had subsided by the end of last season.
“It’s inflamed this whole situation where we as players thought it was calming down,” he said. “I thought we were on a good track, and saying that we would be working toward the things we wanted to see. I felt in doing so, you would see the demonstrations subside. However, with this policy, you open the door for [more] response. I think [the owners] missed it on that.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday that the new anthem guidelines represent a reasonable plan that achieves the league’s goals of respecting the flag, while still allowing players to raise social awareness issues away from the field. Shortly before announcing the revised rules, Goodell said the league and a players’ coalition had finalized plans to spend nearly $100 million on social justice issues targeted by the coalition.
“Our objective as a league is that we want people to be respectful of the national anthem,” Goodell said. “We want people to stand and make sure they treat this moment in a respectful fashion.”
Steelers owner Art Rooney II told reporters Thursday that the owners tried to strike a balance between the players’ right to express themselves and the majority of fans who “don’t come to see a political protest.” He added that he doesn’t “expect it to be an issue with this team . . . we didn’t have an issue last year. We never had a player kneel last year.”
Rooney confirmed an ESPN report that an official vote of the owners wasn’t taken, although Goodell said at a news conference Wednesday that the policy was approved unanimously. The 49ers abstained.
Rooney said this is a time “in this country where there’s a division atmosphere that makes it tough to strike a balance. That’s what we’re trying to do here.”
Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter, speaking Thursday after an organized team activity, said each team will need to determine how to handle the league’s new policy.
“It just happened [Thursday] so there’s going to be some time to work through it and the clubs are going to have to sit down with the decision makers and decide what the clubs are going to do individually,” Koetter told reporters. “I’m on the record as what I think about the national anthem. In a perfect world, everybody would stand. That’s what I believe. There’s a policy now and we just have to move forward.”