San Antonio Spurs Play Pro-Free Speech Message After Coach Calls Trump 'Soulless Coward'

Team plays message after national anthem calling on fans to fight for social justice and freedom of speech.

Unlike the NFL, the NBA has mandated that all players must stand for the national anthem. However, some teams are finding ways to work in some "social justice" messaging in the opening of the games, including locking arms during The Star-Spangled Banner. During its season-opener Wednesday night, the San Antonio Spurs urged their fans to pursue racial equality in a message presented on the scoreboard after the performance of the anthem. The message also specifically mentioned "freedom of speech" a few days after some controversial comments by the Spurs head coach.

Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich has frequented headlines over the last year for his vocal criticism of President Trump. On Monday afternoon, the coach took his criticism to a whole new level, condemning Trump as a "soulless coward" and "pathological liar" who is "unfit intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically to hold this office" (read his full comments below).

Amid backlash for his blistering condemnation of the president, the team chose to present a "unifying" message" on "commonality" on Wednesday that called for the pursuit of "social justice," "freedom of speech in its many forms," and equality for all, "regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or religion":

There are things happening in our communities that need our attention. We understand your desire to attend our games as an escape and chosen form of entertainment. In that, we feel there is a significant commonality in all of us that allows our community to be so special.

That commonality should include aspirations for social justice, freedom of speech in its many forms, and equal opportunity for education, and economic advancement regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or religion.

It is our hope that we can, as a community, inspire and evoke real change. We ask that you join with us in your daily lives in the pursuit of equality. And in that, we honor our country by exercising demands for what this great nation has promised and what our military continues to fight for.

On Monday afternoon, Popovich unloaded on Trump in an even more aggressive way than he has in the past.

"This man in the Oval Office is a soulless coward who thinks that he can only become large by belittling others," Popovich, an Air Force veteran told The Nation Monday. "This has of course been a common practice of his, but to do it in this manner — and to lie about how previous Presidents responded to the deaths of soldiers — is as low as it gets. We have a pathological liar in the White House: unfit intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically to hold this office and the whole world knows it, especially those around him every day. The people who work with this President should be ashamed because they know it better than anyone just how unfit he is, and yet they choose to do nothing about it. This is their shame most of all."

At the Spurs' media day in September, Popovich told the press that he was "sick to his stomach" when Trump won the election. In a lengthy statement on American politics and culture, Popovich lamented that so many voted for Trump, said we must "constantly" talk about racial inequality if we want to fix the problem, and said "our country is an embarrassment to the world." Here's an excerpt of his comments via SB Nation:

We know how everything happens, we know where the power in the country is, we know the racism that exists. But it’s gone beyond that to a point where I’m more worried about, and confused by, the people around our president. These are intelligent people who know exactly what’s going on. They basically were very negative about his actions but now it seems like it’s condoned. We saw it this weekend with his comments about people who should be fired or people who shouldn’t be allowed to do this sort of thing. I wonder what the people think about who voted for him, where their line is, how much they can take, where does the morality and decency kick in?

I understand very well they didn’t like their choice, economically. A lot of people had a problem. And he was the right guy at the right time to tap into that mood. But people overlooked one helluva lot to pull that trigger and vote in that direction, but it was because they wanted change, they felt ignored, they actually thought something would happen that would aid them. But at what price, is the question.

And as we see the actions over and over again, one wonders what is in their head. Have they come to the conclusion that they had the wrong vehicle? They might have had good ideas, good reasons why they wanted to go the way they went. But someone else that had a little bit more decency about how they approach other people and other groups might have served better. That’s what I worry about in the country.

You wonder about if you live where you thought you live. I just heard a comment this morning from a NASCAR owner and Mr. Petty that just blew me away, just blew me away. Where the owner described that he would get the Greyhound bus tickets for anybody to leave, and they’d be fired, and Mr. Petty, who said people who act the way we saw Sunday, they should leave the country. That’s where I live. I had no idea that I lived in a country where people would actually say that sort of thing. I’m not totally naive but I think these people have been enabled by an example that we’ve all been given. You’ve seen it in Charlottesville, and on and on and on. That’s not a surprise. Get over it. What do we do to get it done. To go to the grassroots and not allow this to happen again.

Our country’s an embarrassment to the world. This is an individual who actually thought that when people held arms during the game, that they were doing it to honor the flag. That’s delusional. Absolutely delusional. But it’s what we have to live with.

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