Panthers coach Ron Rivera is not a fan of pulling politics into the sports world.
But as one of only three Latino head coaches in NFL history, Rivera says he has a responsibility to speak out on Donald Trump’s immigration policy and his pledge to make Mexico pay for the wall he wants to build along the border.
During an interview with CNNMoney’s Ahiza Garcia, Rivera tackled the topics of race, immigration and President Trump.
Rivera, who is of Puerto Rican and Mexican descent, said Trump’s policies run counter to the ideals on which the U.S. was founded.
“I think people have to understand that whatever the President’s trying to do, whatever he’s trying to get across, it is really not about what he’s saying. But it’s about how we react and how we do things,” Rivera told Garcia in an interview that was posted Monday.
“There’s a group of people that are trying to make better lives for their families and that’s what it really should be about. And I think what everyone has to understand more so than anything else is that what’s America’s foundation is built on. And we can’t block people out because of that.”
Rivera became the first player of Puerto Rican and Mexican descent to make the NFL after the Chicago Bears drafted him in the first round in 1984. He joined Tom Flores and Tom Fears at the only Latino coaches in league history when the Panthers hired him in 2011.
Rivera told Garcia he’s never felt racism in the NFL, but had a white teammate at Cal use racial slurs toward him.
“He’s supposed to be a teammate, and made a couple comments,” Rivera said. “And that stuck in my mind.”
Rivera also said he believes Panthers quarterback Cam Newton feels pressure to perform at a higher level because of the color of his skin.
“I have an African-American quarterback and I do think he feels it because he wants to be successful,” Rivera said. “Because he most certainly at the end of the day does want to present that you can be successful as an African-American playing quarterback.
“I struggle with that because at the end of the day it really should be about your merit.”