In a recent interview with the New York Times, San Antonio Spurs head coach and ally for social justice reform Gregg Popovich addressed an important topic.
As a white man in a position of leadership in a predominantly Black sport, San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich understands the significance of empathizing with his players and staff. He wears a handful of hats: President and Head Coach of the Spurs, head coach of Team USA and one of the most highly-regarded figures in Air Force athletics. Needless to say, Pop is a crucial figure in the world of basketball.
Today in an interview with Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, Popovich opened up about what it’s like to be a white coach working with a roster that’s majority Black. The following excerpt from Maureen’s beautiful piece shows Pop’s deeper understanding and open-mindedness when it comes to listening to perspectives other than his own.
“Especially if you’re a white coach and you’re coaching a group that’s largely black, you’d better gain their trust, you’d better be genuine, you’d better understand their situation,” he tells me. “You’d better understand where they grew up. Maybe there’s a black kid from a prep school. Maybe there’s another black kid who saw his first murder when he was 7 years old.”
But in recent calls with the Spurs’ players and staff he has been amazed at the level of hurt.
“It would bring you to tears,” he says, his voice cracking. “It’s even deeper than you thought, and that’s what really made me start to think: You’re a privileged son of a bitch and you still don’t get it as much as you think you do. You gotta work harder. You gotta be more aware. You gotta be pushed and embarrassed. You’ve gotta call it out.”
This is a level of responsibility that’s rarely spoken about from the perspective of a white head coach. Most of the time, questions about racial injustice, police brutality and systemic racism are directed toward Black players and coaches. Popovich, who doesn’t want to be regarded as anything more than a coach, takes it upon himself to speak up for those who don’t have the platform or public speaking skills that he does.
While interacting with Spurs fans online, I’ve noticed a large sector of the fandom, opposes Pop’s outspoken ways. That percentage often mentions that he should “Stick to coaching,” or “Shut his mouth,” as it’s so eloquently put. This might give you a perspective as to why he’s using his platform to speak up about these issues. In leading the players that you love to root for, he’s learned about the struggles they’ve encountered as Black men in America.
It’s that receptive and caring personality that’s responsible for building the Spurs’ culture that emphasizes being a good person before being a good player. He wants the best for his players, and on a broader scale, all of the people who’ve been disenfranchised in the country that he represents as leader of Team USA.
‘Black people have been shouldering this burden for 400 years’ — NBA coach Gregg Popovich says it’s up to white people to fix racism in this emotional message pic.twitter.com/ffXTx3w9YG
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) June 11, 2020
The San Antonio Spurs legend put NFL figures on blast in the process.
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Popovich also discussed the NFL’s approach to racial issues in the United States. He spoke on the symbolism of the American flag and what it stands for before moving on to the sanctimonious image that NFL owners look to portray for themselves. Before that, though, Pop made sure to make it clear that everyone who fought for the flag did it so that people like former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick can have the right to protest.
Specifically, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones were called out for profiting off of Black athletes while donating millions to the Trump administration.
“It’s just hypocritical,” he replies. “It’s incongruent. It doesn’t make sense. People aren’t blind. Do you go to your staff and your players and talk about injustices and democracy and how to protest? I don’t get it. I think they put themselves in a position that’s untenable.”
Popovich followed this up by noting something that you could probably guess from his stance in all of this: He doesn’t care about the section of fans who stop supporting him and the team for his political comments. He noted that Spurs ownership hasn’t said anything to him about limiting his speech or being a bit less harsh.
With that being the case, Popovich is going to continue being a role model for White allies everywhere looking to create social change for their Black peers.