Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy hasn't been shy about wading into political discourse. In recent months, he's been fiercely outspoken about his opposition to President Donald Trump and to the Trump administration's travel ban, while also shining a light on the tacit racism that often pervades everyday dialogue.
Now, as the presidentand others take aim at professional athletes who've been protesting racial inequality in America by kneeling during the singing of the national anthem before games, Van Gundy is making it clear that he stands behind the athletes.
"In a time where bigotry seems on the rise and commitment to racial equality on the decline, I have an obligation as a citizen to speak out and to support, in any way possible, those brave and patriotic athletes who are working to bring change to our country," Van Gundy wrote in a Time op-ed published Tuesday. "I believe all of us do."
Van Gundy also revealed he invited Dr. Michael Eric Dyson - an author, professor, lecturer, and radio host who specializes in race relations - to come talk to the Pistons. He explained the lessons he learned from Dyson's address to the team.
"Nationalism, he said, is supporting your country no matter what, right or wrong," Van Gundy writes. "Patriotism, on the other hand, is caring so deeply about your country that you take it as your duty to hold it accountable to its highest values and to fight to make it the very best it can be. Under this definition, these athletes and coaches are role models of American patriotism."
Van Gundy bristles at the notion that protests dishonor the American flag and military - "One of the most important freedoms that our military has fought for over two-plus centuries is the freedom of speech" - arguing that it misses the point of what these athletes are protesting, which include issues such as police brutality and racial profiling, and the mass incarceration of people of color.
"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," Van Gundy writes. "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."