The past two editions of the Express-News have contained articles concerning the Spurs’ Gregg (Pop) Popovich honoring John Carlos by giving him the opportunity to speak to the Spurs players at their training facility. For those of you who don’t recall Carlos, he and running mate Tommie Smith disrupted a medal ceremony in the 1968 Olympics by standing with heads down and black-gloved fists up (and shoes off) during the playing of our National Anthem. They asserted that their protest was to show support for the black-power movement. Their conduct resulted in them being kicked off the American Olympic team.
In the first article, Dan McCarney reported that Pop brought Carlos in to create a cultural opportunity for the team:
- Bringing in a guest speaker of such stature is about what you’d expect from Popovich, who makes a concerted effort to push his players to expand their attention beyond the basketball court.
Shooting guard Danny Green seemed to appreciate the gesture:
- We got a chance to interact with a legend. He paved the way for us. For us young guys, learning the history of where we came from is important. It was important to Pop. He felt the need to share it to us.
Huh? In what sense did John Carlos pave the way for Danny Green? Black athletes were already well established in 1968. Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, et al.
I responded to McCarney’s article with the following online comment:
- As Vince Lombardi famously said, “What the hell is going on out there?” Carlos’s claim to fame is a notorious attempt to politicize the medal-ceremony at the Olympics. By all accounts, that tactic has been thoroughly discredited and would be met by even more ugly reactions today. So why does Pop glorify the guy? Pop’s hubris is beginning to annoy.
Not surprisingly, my comment was not well received. One of the paper’s most prolific commenters weighed-in as follows:
- Idiot. Hundreds of Mexican students protesting the extravagant spending by the government in the midst of staggering poverty and oppression were killed and arrested. The order to shoot and arrest came from a totally corrupt government and is well known as the Massacre at Tatelolci (plaza de las tres cultural) and those of us who witnessed the athlete’s expression of solidarity know the truth. All you are is a right wing mouthpiece who has no clue.
I thought that would be the end of the matter, but the newspaper decided to double-down on the matter by publishing a similar article the next day. In this article reporter Mike Monroe reported that the Spurs’ interaction with “civil rights icon John Carlos … continues to resonate with the team.” He also provided Pop’s explanation for the visit – “It’s just an effort to honor somebody who deserves to be honored, and to let our team know the world is bigger than basketball.”
Monroe provided two new examples of the continuing resonation:
- Starting forward Kawhi Leonard said Carlos’s talk to the team will be an inspiration throughout the season. “He’s an icon to America. Him coming in here and saying how much he likes your team, you get an enjoyment in your heart and want to keep fighting and make him proud.”
- Guard-forward Kyle Anderson was left with an indelible impression. “That was awesome, a great experience. For Pop to actually bring him in and give us a chance to interact with him and ask him questions and learn from him was great. That really meant a lot to us. I felt a lot of pride. When he did what he did he had people in 2015 in mind. He had his kids in mind; he had his grandkids in mind; the future in his mind.”
Do these basketball players know what Carlos did? Although Carlos was only known to me for his outrageous medal-ceremony protest, I decided to consult with Wikipedia to learn if he did anything else noteworthy. Wikipedia reported nothing of significance in Carlos’s life since the medal ceremony other than being kicked off the Olympic team, receiving death threats, failing to catch on in professional football, and writing a memoir.
I commented on Monroe’s article as follows:
- Carlos’s memoirist complains that the sports world has long treated this medal-stand protestor as a toxic element for attempting to politicize black athletes. Are the Spurs attempting to revive this utterly, comprehensively repudiated concept? Some have suggested that the hiring of Hammon was a political statement; perhaps this is Political Statement #2 from Pop and the Spurs.
Not surprisingly, a guy name Alonso disagreed:
- You complainers are missing the point. Coach Pop knew his players would like meeting him and he was right. The politics of the Spurs coach and players should not have any impact on whether we root for them on the court. At least it doesn’t for grownups anyway.
I responded to Alonso:
- The politics of the Spurs coach and players don’t have an impact if they keep those views to themselves. But if they want to start preaching to us, see what happened to the Dixie Chicks. Incidentally, Pop said he wanted to honor Carlos, but nowhere have I seen exactly what he is to be honored for. Disrupting a medal ceremony?