John Wall, the former Kentucky basketball player and NBA star, stepped into the national anthem debate during an interview Monday as his Washington Wizards began preseason camp.
Wall said that until the NFL’s franchise players begin speaking out on behalf of players like Colin Kaepernick and others who are protesting racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem, nothing will change.
In the NBA, “most of our franchise guys or big-time players in the league are African-Americans,” Wall said in a CSN Mid-Atlantic interview Monday, noting that when players like Chris Paul and LeBron James speak out, people listen, citing the ouster of former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
But in the NFL, there’s another dynamic with a distinct difference, he said.
“Our African-American guys, coming out of college, they’re great quarterbacks. When we get to the NFL, what do they (teams) try to do? Change our position. Why? Because franchise guys (in the NFL) are quarterbacks,” Wall said. “So, you have guys like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers — love those guys, very talented — (but) until those guys come out and speak, I don’t think the NFL (will) make any adjustments.”
Many NFL owners and the league supported their players’ rights to free expression and denounced President Donald Trump’s comments over the weekend. The issue of some NFL and other professional athletes kneeling to protest racial injustice in America became inflamed when Trump attacked the practice at a rally in Alabama on Friday.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’” Trump said Friday night.
Later Monday, DeMarcus Cousins, Wall’s UK teammate, was asked his opinion on the issue at his New Orleans Pelicans’ press conference.
“I think the least of (Trump’s) concerns should be what’s going on in the NFL,’ Cousins said. “We got world issues going on that are barely being talked about by him ... the leader of our nation. He needs to get his sh-- together.”
Trump’s words brought a backlash from NFL owners, players and others and turned what had been a relatively small display by a few players into a much larger statement played out on national television Sunday. Three NFL teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Seattle Seahawks and the Tennessee Titans did not come out for the anthem before their games on Sunday.
Those teams included former Kentucky players Bud Dupree (Steelers), Avery Williamson (Titans) and Wesley Woodyard (Titans). Woodyard was part of a group of Titans who raised their right fists to call attention to racial injustices after the anthem was played at a game last season. Avery Williamson was prevented from wearing 9/11 tribute cleats last year. None of the players have spoken publicly about Sunday’s team decisions to stay in the tunnel for the anthem.
On other NFL teams, players knelt or stood with arms interlocked amid the controversy Sunday. Among the players kneeling Sunday was Ravens linebacker and former Kentucky player Za’Darius Smith, as they prepared to play the Jacksonville Jaguars in London on Sunday. A photo of Smith and other players was splashed on the front page of the New York Post on Monday morning.
Wall, who was inducted into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame over the weekend and delivered a moving acceptance speech, was one of a number of former Kentucky players who expressed their feelings on the debate and Trump in recent days.
Former basketball player Jarred Polson objected to what he said was a Photoshopped image of him holding a T-shirt saying he “Stands for the flag /Kneels for the cross.”
“I never gave permission to whoever did this and I haven’t even seen this shirt until someone texted this picture to me,” Polson posted on Twitter on Sunday. “My views on this topic are much more complex than a tacky shirt with a UK cross.”
Trump also took to Twitter over the weekend to disinvite the NBA champion Golden State Warriors from the White House over Stephen Curry’s misgivings about attending such an event because of Trump’s other controversial comments on race.
Kyle Wiltjer, who transferred from UK to Gonzaga, but was part of Kentucky’s 2012 national championship team, posted his feelings on the Golden State issue on Twitter on Saturday reflecting on his visit to the White House when the Cats were invited by then-President Barack Obama.
“It’s a shame that some of these amazing players (the Warriors) have to miss out on this opportunity because of the ignorance of the man that is now in charge,” Wiltjer tweeted, referring to Trump.
NFL free agent and former Kentucky football player Jacob Tamme took a more lighthearted approach to the controversy Sunday. Tamme, who co-founded the Swings for Soldiers charity to help wounded soldiers, retweeted an Iowa blogger’s take on the anthem controversy Sunday which implied this was all a part of a Trump effort to restart the USFL, which Trump was once an owner in.
“4D chess,” Tamme tweeted.