Charlotte Hornets forward Marvin Williams is saddened by the divisiveness that resulted when sports and politics collided over the weekend.
However, he’s heartened by the unity many NFL players demonstrated in supporting former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s right of free expression.
“I think it’s great what NFL players are doing right now,” Williams said Monday of players, such as Carolina Panthers lineman Julius Peppers, making statements on freedom of speech. “I never thought what Kaepernick started, I never thought he’d have taken this much backlash. I really am happy about the guys who reached out and supported him.
“I think he had great intentions in kneeling for the anthem. His (thought) was in the right place.”
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On Friday, President Donald Trump said at a rally in Alabama that he’d like to see NFL owners fire any players who don’t stand at attention for the national anthem. Saturday, after former Davidson star Stephen Curry questioned whether his NBA champion Golden State Warriors should visit the White House, Trump tweeted the Warriors were no longer invited.
That drew strong comment all around the issue of free speech and professional athletes. Among those weighing in: Hornets owner and NBA icon Michael Jordan.
In response to an Observer question Sunday night, Jordan issued the following statement:
“One of the fundamental rights this country is founded on was freedom of speech, and we have a long tradition of non-violent, peaceful protest,” Jordan told the Observer. “Those who exercise the right to peacefully express themselves should not be demonized or ostracized.
“At a time of increasing divisiveness and hate in this country, we should be looking for ways to work together and support each other, and not create more division.”
This isn’t the first time in recent memory that Jordan has taken on social issues. When rioting occurred in Charlotte a year ago, after police shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott, Jordan called for calm and non-violent interaction. He also contributed $1 million each to a community-policing program and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
This current Hornets roster has engaged in social activism previously. The players warmed up for a game in 2014 in “I can’t breathe” T-shirts, in response to the death of Staten Island’s Eric Garner, who died while in a police chokehold.
Then, last season following the rioting in uptown Charlotte, Williams and point guard Kemba Walker organized a scholarship fund for two underprivileged students. With contributions from their fellow players, the Hornets and the NBA, that fund will pay for two students who entered North Carolina this fall.
Walker was asked at the team’s pre-training camp media day Monday about pro athletes and social activism.
“If you feel strongly about it, you should speak out,” Walker said. “Much respect to LeBron (James) and Steph for speaking their piece. Not hiding, just saying what they feel. I respect the unity. Despite what’s happening between the president and NFL players, you can see people coming together.”
Curry, who grew up in Charlotte, has criticized Trump on various social issues. James called Trump a “bum” on Twitter in response to the president’s rebuke of Curry.
“It’s a brotherhood,” Walker said of NBA players. “It’s cool to see (James) having Steph’s back.”
New Hornets center Dwight Howard was also asked about the fallout from Trump’s comments. He said this is a time to respond to division with love.
“I know the president has said a lot of things that people don’t like,” Howard said. “But all I can do is forgive him and love him through the process. ...
“It’s not about showing love to the people who love us only. It’s about showing love to everybody, even the people who hate us.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell