Pistons' Stan Van Gundy: Protesting NFL players are 'patriots of the highest order'

NFL players who peacefully protest aren't just protesting, and Stan Van Gundy wants to make sure you know that.

The Detroit Pistons head coach, one of several prominent NBA figures to address calls for equality across professional sports, penned an open letter for Time magazine this week, and in it, he offered his support to the NFL players promoting change, calling them "patriots of the highest order."

In the great tradition of the civil rights movement, these athletes are using non-violent, peaceful protest to work toward specific changes they want to see in their communities and their country. Because of this "controversy," people are forgetting what these protestors are trying to change. It's important for us to talk about it every day until it resonates, until change happens. Their demands are important, and today, I am adding my voice in support.

Van Gundy didn't stop at throwing his name behind players who demonstrate during pregame national anthems, either. The coach, echoing the words of NBA counterpart Gregg Popovich, cited talks he's had with his own team about the difference between nationalism and patriotism -- blindly defending a country or caring enough to reform it.

We should never forget that this country was founded by protesters. Our founding fathers declared independence from Great Britain because they were dissatisfied with the laws and policies that they believed abridged their freedoms. Had they taken the stance that many want our professional athletes to take — to just shut up and honor your country no matter what — we would be living in British colonies.

The Pistons coach also outlined the protesting athletes' specific desires, many of which have been overlooked by allegations, including from the White House, that the players simply aren't patriotic. Thanking the NFL Players Coalition, an unofficial group of more than 40 players dedicated to social activism, for accompanying protests with actual community engagement, Van Gundy listed all the goals of the protests, each of them supported with statistics on equality:

  • Ameliorating harsh sentencing guidelines and ending mandatory minimum sentences
  • Enacting clean slate laws
  • Eliminating cash bail
  • Reforming juvenile justice
  • Ending police brutality and racial bias in police departments

Protests became widespread across the NFL in late September but originated in 2016, when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, recently named GQ's Citizen of the Year, first sat, then knelt during the national anthem to protest police brutality. His demonstrations spawned similar efforts from 49ers teammates and, eventually, by 2017, dozens of other NFL players. After President Donald Trump called for NFL owners to punish or release "son of a (explicit)" players who used the anthem as a platform for protesting social injustice, hundreds of athletes either knelt, raised a fist or stayed off the field during pregame anthems.

Since then, the Philadelphia Eagles' Malcolm Jenkins has spearheaded efforts by the Players Coalition to work with NFL owners, local law enforcement and politicians, initiating dialogue regarding the protested issues and prompting potential legislation.

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