He felt disappointed and proud.
He was disappointed that the president was focusing on athletes engaging in protests, rather than the issues they were protesting. He was proud to see NFL owners and coaches back their players’ rights to protest. He was also proud to see NBA teams stand by the Warriors, whose star point guard Stephen Curry said he did not want to go to the White House.
“We have bigger problems in our country than to worry about people who are exercising their freedom of speech,” Johnson said. “North Korea is a big problem. Job creation is a major problem. Making sure that our schools are better. I could just keep going. These are things he should be concentrating on. We elected him to concentrate on those things. What I’m disappointed at is the fact that these young men who are saying hey there’s problems in our community in urban America and nobody’s looking to address these issues and problems. That’s what Colin [Kaepernick] was not standing up for the national anthem for. Because he wanted the shootings in our community [to stop], he wanted better books and computers in our schools. All these players are exercising their right and I think the president should be really focusing in on the issues at hand of our country and of the people who live in our beautiful country and not those who are saying hey this is my right to do what I’m doing.”
Over the weekend, Trump said in a speech that owners should fire players who protested racial inequality and police brutality during the national anthem. Kaepernick, who is unemployed, began the protests while he played for the San Francisco 49ers.
Such protests were not widespread in the NFL for most of this season, but after Trump’s comments, every game played on Sunday featured players kneeling, sitting or locking arms during the national anthem. Some teams remained in the locker room and declined to participate in the ritual. Some owners and coaches also joined their players in locking arms.
“I was so proud of the owners and coaches who were backing the players in the NFL,” Johnson said. “I was also proud of all of us, from commissioner Adam Silver to all of us who backed Golden State. Because it was important to say hey we back Golden State 150% and this is the decision they made — well I guess the president made it for them. We gotta move on past this and get the country headed in the right direction. That’s it.”
The Lakers locked arms during the national anthem for most of last season. They will meet as a team to decide what they want to do. In the past, Lakers coach Luke Walton has encouraged his players to make a decision together and do something as a team if they’d like to make a statement.
“We stand for the absolute protection of the first amendment rights that the constitution gives all of us as individuals and as citizens of this great democracy,” Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said. “We want to create a forum here where our players can express their views and respectfully be listened to and heard. That’s a culture we want to develop here. In terms of how our players will address the issues at hand, that’s going to be a player decision. I’m sure Luke is going to address those issues in the locker room and then come up with a plan that best fits that group of young men and we’ll support that.”
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli