By: Will Burchfield
Stan Van Gundy doesn’t shy away from political commentary, and he recently found a new platform to voice his opinion: Time Magazine.
The Pistons head coach wrote an essay for Time entitled “Athletes Who Protest Are Patriots.” Published Tuesday morning, it centers on the idea that the act of protesting is fundamentally American:
“One of the most important freedoms that our military has fought for over two-plus centuries is the freedom of speech. 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 cites the work of Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, who spoke to the Pistons during training camp at Van Gundy’s behest, in explaining the difference between nationalism and patriotism:
“Nationalism, he said, is supporting your country no matter what, right or wrong. Patriotism, on the other hand, 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. Under this definition, these athletes and coaches are role models of American patriotism.”
Professional athletes who protest during the national anthem invite criticism and scorn from a large portion of the population. In this way, Van Gundy says, they are reminiscent of the likes of Muhammad Ali and the duo of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, all of whom made personal sacrifices to promote social justice:
“These athletes and many others are risking future contracts and endorsement opportunities to speak out on issues of racial injustice because they feel duty-bound to do so. These are patriots of the highest order.
Van Gundy closes by saying:
“These athletes could take the easy route and not place their livelihoods at risk by standing up for what they believe in. They’ve put in their hard work. They could accept their paychecks and live lives of luxury. Instead, they are risking their jobs to speak up for those who have no voice. They are working to make America live up to its stated ideals. We should all join them in ensuring their collective voice is heard.”
After practice on Tuesday, Van Gundy explained his motivation for the essay, which he wrote on a cross-country flight last month.
“All I was trying to do in that — and I don’t think I was overly critical of anybody — was to try to show support for the players,” said Van Gundy, via the Detroit News. “I’m really proud of guys who have spoken up. There are too many people now, especially young people, who haven’t gotten involved enough and haven’t had enough to say.
“I do agree with them on everything they say, but even if you don’t, you should have respect that these guys are out there in a peaceful way, talking about issues that are important to them and with great personal sacrifice.”
It was the first time Van Gundy has been published in a national magazine, but he’s made several political statements to the media over the past year, specifically about President Donald Trump.
He called Trump an “openly brazen, misogynist leader” in a lengthy tirade after he was elected last November, and in January he compared Trump’s travel ban to Hitler’s treatment of Jews. At Pistons media day in September, Van Gundy read a pre-written statement concerning Trump’s comments about player protests in the NFL to keep himself from ranting.