Pete Carroll, Steve Kerr, Gregg Popovich praise Colin Kaepernick for taking stand against police brutality

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11:26 AM ET

  • Nick FriedellESPN Staff Writer

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      Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.

Seattle Seahawks coach Pete said “we owe a tremendous amount” to former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick for taking a stand against police brutality and racial oppression in 2016.

“I think that there was a moment in time that a young man captured. He took a stand on something, figuratively took a knee, but he stood up for something he believed in — and what an extraordinary moment it was that he was willing to take,” Carroll said while speaking on The Ringer’s “Flying Coach” podcast with Golden State Warriors coach Kerr and San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich on Tuesday.

“… But what happened from the process is it elevated awareness from people that just took everything away from what the statement was all about, and it just got tugged and pulled and ripped apart.

“And the whole mission of what the statement was, such a beautiful … it’s still the statement that we’re making right today. We’re not protecting our people. We’re not looking after one another. We’re not making the right choices. We’re not following the right process to bring people to justice when actions are taken. So I think it was a big sacrifice in the sense that a young man makes, but those are the courageous moments that some guys take.

“And we owe a tremendous amount to him for sure.”

The topic of Kaepernick’s decision came up on the podcast when Carroll was asked about how it relates to recent events, including the death of George Floyd.

Floyd, a black man, was killed last week in Minneapolis after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes. Chauvin and the three other officers on the scene were fired, and Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Kaepernick’s decision to protest during the anthem — and his inability to get back into the NFL after the 2016 season — came back to the forefront because of Floyd’s death, as well as a piece on CNN.com by former NFL executive Joe Lockhart in which he urged a team, specifically the Minnesota Vikings, to sign the quarterback whom many had believed was “bad for business.”

“To me, it’s really hard to look at what’s going on right now with all the violence and the protests and not look back to four years ago and say, ‘Look, this guy [Kaepernick] was trying to peacefully protest and nothing came of it,” Kerr said. “The killings went on and nothing changed and he was actually ridiculed, so it’s a real tough one to think about.”

The Seahawks were linked to Kaepernick two years ago, when they discussed hosting the free-agent quarterback for a preseason workout. But the April visit was called off after Kaepernick declined to inform the Seahawks whether he planned to stop kneeling for the anthem, according to ESPN and multiple reports.

Sources told ESPN at the time that Kaepernick was unwilling to give any assurances to the Seahawks, who wanted to know that he would not kneel before games during the 2018 season. Carroll publicly acknowledged the Seahawks’ interest in Kaepernick but told reporters in April 2018 that reports of what happened with the intended workout were “blown up.”

Kaepernick likely would have competed for a backup role behind Russell Wilson with the Seahawks, who also had quarterbacks Stephen Morris and Austin Davis on their roster at the time of the planned workout.

Kaepernick’s decision was just one portion of an hourlong podcast in which the trio of accomplished white coaches said they all feel a responsibility to do more, both in terms of how they communicate different messages and how they carry out those messages to their teams and the people around them.

“I think probably the thing that has to be done before anything is an understanding and an awareness that there needs to be a reconciliation, an admission of guilt,” Kerr said while discussing “a refusal to reconcile our sins of our past” as it pertains to slavery in America.

“I don’t think it should be — this is not a message of, ‘Hey all you white people, you should feel guilty; this is your fault.’ That’s not the point. But this is the way our country is, it’s our responsibility to admit that this is what’s going on in our country, and let’s look at our past and let’s truly examine our past.”

Said Carroll: “We have to go beyond and act and take the action, and it’s going to be a challenge for people. I feel frustrated I’m not doing enough. I’m not on it enough. I can’t get active enough to create the change. I think we need to make progress, not just change.”

Carroll said he has continued to discuss recent events with his own team during Zoom meetings.

Popovich said that he’s struggled to explain the circumstances surrounding Floyd’s death to his own granddaughter.

“I was in a TV room the other day with my 8-year-old granddaughter and I was watching the news; she happened to walk in,” Popovich said. “And it was the exact time when they were replaying the policeman with his knee on George Floyd’s neck. And I didn’t realize she was there. And I turned for whatever reason, I saw her standing there and she was just staring and she said, ‘Poppy, why does that man have his knee on that man’s neck? What is he doing?’

“And I was dumbfounded. I turned [the TV] off. And then I thought, ‘Should I have left it on and explained it to her? Or how do I explain it to her now that I have turned it off?’ I made some feeble attempt, but I didn’t know how far to go, how deep to go. What age is it? Is she ready or not ready?

Then I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a problem for me.’ And then I thought, ‘What about a black family?’ You think they have a problem talking to their kids and figuring out what’s going on here? So it’s so convoluted and complicated that … everything sort of fades away if we don’t have that initial admission, that sorrowful recognition of what went on in the past and what has continued.”

Kerr was recently named to a committee on racial injustice and reform through the National Basketball Coaches Association alongside Popovich and several other current and former coaches in the hopes the group can “pursue solutions within NBA cities,” as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski noted earlier this week.

Both Kerr and Popovich reiterated that they believe this group of current players are more prepared than ever to tackle larger societal issues and use their platforms for good.

“I think the players that we coach now, I think that they become a little bit more worldly sooner than in the past because so much has gone on,” Popovich said. “Our country has seen so much. And the internet, social media, they’re so well connected. Oftentimes players tell me what’s going on in the world, and I go check it out because that’s the world that we have. In the past, everything was a little bit more insular. You just had your group, your family, your team, your coaching staff. But it wasn’t interconnected the way it is now. … I think they’re less prone to just accept things the way they are.”

Popovich noted many players in all professional sports leagues are “ready, willing and able” to make a difference in their respective communities “and try to make a stop to all the craziness that we see, and to really focus on helping, those places, those people, that have less than the rest of us.”

“[They’re] much more committed and much more ready to speak out,” Popovich said. “But it’s got to stay persistent, or it’s just going to fade away.”

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