Plaschke: Listen to Steve Kerr. We can't stick to sports and ignore gun violence

·5 min read
Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr yells from the sideline
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr yells from the sideline during the first half of Game 4 in the Western Conference finals. He did not want to talk about basketball in his pregame press conference. (Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)

Steve Kerr knows about terrorist attacks.

He lost his father 38 years ago in a terrorist attack.

Steve Kerr knows that what happened in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday afternoon was another terrorist attack.

Except that this time, the terrorists are us, and there’s seemingly nothing we will do to stop them.

“I’m not going to talk about basketball … any basketball questions don’t matter,” the Golden State Warriors coach said to begin his news conference Tuesday night before Game 4 of the Western Conference finals in Dallas against the Mavericks. “Since we left shootaround, 14 children were killed, 400 miles from here. And a teacher. And in the last 10 days we’ve had elderly Black people killed in a supermarket in Buffalo, we’ve had Asian churchgoers killed in Southern California and now we have children murdered at school.”

His eyes watered. His voice thickened. He pounded his palm on a table three times. His words became a scream.

“When are we going to do something?”

It was the stunning opening to a riveting three-minute rant about another senseless shooting, another avoidable tragedy, another collection of tiny innocents turned into corpses because our leaders don’t have the guts to pass the laws that could help protect them.

Stick to sports? You can stick that “Stick to sports.”

Shut up and dribble? How about you shut up and listen?

In the wake of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary, which claimed the lives of at least 19 children and two adults as well as the life of the 18-year-old gunman, Kerr spoke for much of America in his greatest pregame speech ever.

Sports may be trivial, but people pay attention to those who play and coach sports.

Sports might be silly games, but people notice when suddenly the leader of the most popular team in one of this country’s most popular leagues refuses to talk about those games.

What Steve Kerr did Tuesday night mattered because one could hear heart, feel his emotion and share his pain.

It mattered because he knows what he’s talking about, his father having been murdered in a terrorist attack in Beirut in 1984.

It mattered because he veered far from the lane usually occupied by coaches who are supposed to be the bastions of calm, who aren’t supposed to bang their palm on a table for anything other than to protest a bad call.

Granted, Kerr has spoken on this issue before. Doc Rivers has gotten tearful on issues of social justice. Gregg Popovich has been unafraid to call for societal change. The NBA coaches have long been more open and transparent than those who run teams in other sports.

But never has a sports leader been so loudly honest and angry and challenging at such a fragile time.

It was the perfect time. In three short minutes, Kerr reflected the frustration of millions.

Amid the familiar images of yellow tape and weeping families, America needed somebody other than a politician to shake us by the shoulders and reinforce the insanity of it all. In his finest moment, Kerr was that somebody.

“I’m tired,” he said. “I’m so tired of getting up here and offering condolences to the devastated families that are out there. … I’m sorry, I’m tired of the moments of silence. Enough!”

Instead of talking about the pick and roll, Kerr focused on HR 8, a bill that calls for stricter background check rules for the purchase of firearms. He called for Republican senators to make the bill happen.

“There’s a reason why they won’t vote on it, to hold on to power,” Kerr said. “So I ask you [Senate minority leader] Mitch McConnell, I ask all of you senators who refuse to do anything about the violence and school shootings and supermarket shootings. I ask you: Are you going to put your own desire for power ahead of the lives of our children and our elderly and our churchgoers? Because that’s what it looks like. It’s what we do every week.”

Kerr acknowledged the obvious, that everyone expresses outrage when shootings occur but then forgets about it until the next shootings. He begged America to keep fighting for change.

“I’m fed up, I’ve had enough,” he said. “We’re going to play the game tonight, but I want every person listening to this to think about your own child … how would you feel if this happened to you today ... we can’t get numb to this … we can’t sit here and just read about it and go, ‘Well, let’s have a moment of silence. Yeah go Dubs, c’mon Mavs, let’s go!’ That’s what we’re going to do … and 50 senators in Washington are going to hold us hostage.”

He pounded his fist on the table.

“It’s pathetic,” he shouted before standing up and storming out of the conference room without taking any questions. “I’ve had enough.”

What he said.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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