The Pistons head coach wrote an essay for Time entitled "Athletes Who Protest Are Patriots".
"In a time where bigotry seems on the rise and commitment to racial equality on the decline", Van Gundy wrote", I have an obligation as a citizen to speak out and to support, in any way possible, those courageous and patriotic athletes who are working to bring change to our country. He cited scholar and author Michael Eric Dyson as having made a distinction between nationalism, defined as "supporting your country no matter what, right or wrong", and patriotism, which is "caring so deeply about your country that you take it as your duty to hold it accountable to its highest values and to fight to make it the very best it can be".
"Honoring America has to mean much, much more than standing at attention for a song (one which, by the way, contains racist language in later verses)", Van Gundy wrote.
Public conversation around the anthem protests has frequently been reduced to shouting over the optics and significance of the anthem itself, rather than the meaning of the actual protests.
"One of the most important freedoms that our military has fought for over two-plus centuries is the freedom of speech".
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The issue was brought back to the forefront in September when U.S. President Donald Trump suggested National Football League owners should fire players who don't stand for the anthem. Because of this "controversy", people are forgetting what these protestors are trying to change. 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.
Member of the San Francisco 49ers kneel and stand during the playing of the National Anthem.. 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. He lists several of the policy initiatives the group is working on, including the abolishment of mandatory minimum sentences and cash bail.
Van Gundy ended his powerful op-ed with a call to action, asking others to publicly support players who are risking their livelihood by bringing awareness to social injustice through protest. They've put in their hard work. Instead, they are risking their jobs to speak up for those who have no voice.
"I stand with these athletes - in support of both these causes and their patriotism", Van Gundy said.
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