Steve Kerr showed up for the NBA-mandated pregame press conference Tuesday, but the Warriors’ coach took no basketball questions. He refused to play along with the notion that we could simply put aside the deaths of elementary school children and a teacher 350 miles away, in an anonymous Texas town made infamous Tuesday, and talk basketball.
He didn’t even want to play basketball Tuesday, but if his Warriors had to, he would make the most of this worldwide stage.
The message lasted not quite three minutes, but it echoed far beyond American Airlines Center.
Kerr could have cited the fact that there have been 27 school shootings in the U.S. so far this year and 212 mass shootings overall.
He limited the scope of the victims to just the last 10 days.
Ten elderly Black people in a Buffalo supermarket.
A doctor at a Taiwanese church in California.
At least 19 students and two adults in Uvalde, the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook a decade ago.
Steve Kerr — emotional, impassioned, outraged — demands U.S. senators take action after children and their teachers were murdered at school today.
Basketball is, rightfully, so trivial. pic.twitter.com/a5JYYpPylY
— Callie Caplan (@CallieCaplan) May 24, 2022
“When are we going to do something?” Kerr shouted, pounding the table in front of him.
Frankly, in 45 years doing this for a living, this was a first. We’re used to coaches and athletes offering condolences in times of tragedy. Jason Kidd sounded like most of them in his own pregame remarks. Reading handwritten sentiments ripped from a notepad, he said they would play “with heavy hearts.” A reporter tried a basketball question and Kidd would have none of it. He wouldn’t talk about his own journey. The closest he came to acknowledging Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals was to say the Mavs had to find a way to forge ahead, be professionals, move on.
“But the news of what’s happening,” he added, “not just here in Texas but throughout our country, is sad.”
No sooner had Kidd left the interview room did it occur to me what Kerr might say when his time came 10 minutes later. He and the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich may be the most outspoken coaches in sports on social issues. They’re not afraid of making anyone uncomfortable. On gun-control issues alone, Kerr has made headlines at least a half-dozen times over the last few years.
Jason Kidd opened his pregame presser by recognizing the Uvalde, Texas, victims and community.
He didn’t want to talk about basketball.
“As coaches or fathers, we have kids. Elementary school, you just think I about what could take place with any of your family at school.” pic.twitter.com/NNrm9Zr4om
— Callie Caplan (@CallieCaplan) May 24, 2022
For Kerr, it’s personal. As a Warriors official reminded a roomful of reporters after the Warriors’ coach left the press conference, Kerr became “so emotional” because his father, Malcolm, president of the American University of Beirut, was shot and killed on Jan. 18, 1984.
His murder was such a prominent news story, in fact, Ronald Reagan issued a statement:
“Dr. Kerr’s untimely and tragic death at the hands of these despicable assassins must strengthen our resolve not to give in to the acts of terrorists,” the president said in a statement. “Terrorism must not be allowed to take control of our lives, actions or future of ourselves and our friends.”
Another president would voice similar sentiments after the Twin Towers fell, and the nation followed George W. Bush’s lead in lockstep.
More Americans have died over the last 21 years in active shooter incidents than the nearly 2,800 victims of 9/11, according to FBI statistics. Education Week reports that the number of school shootings since it began tracking four years ago is up to 119.
Think about that last sentence: A 40-year-old publication dedicated to educational matters decided it had better start keeping a tally on murdered children.
Steve Kerr is tired of thinking about it.
He’s tired of talking.
“I’m so tired of getting up here and offering condolences to the devastated families that are out there,” he said Tuesday. “I’m so tired. Excuse me. I’m sorry. I’m tired of the moments of silence.
Kerr cited the fact that H.R. 8 — a bi-partisan bill passed last year by the U.S. House requiring a background check by a licensed gun dealer on any firearm sale between private parties — has stalled in the Senate. He says it sits because senators are afraid of losing their seats if they vote one way or the other. That despite a 2018 Quinnipiac poll taken after the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla., indicating 97% of Americans favored increased background checks.
Kerr issued a direct question Tuesday to Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, and his peers.
“I ask you: Are you going to put your own desire for power ahead of our children and our elderly and our churchgoers,” he said. “Because that’s what it looks like.
“That’s what we do every week.”
Meanwhile, more people die every week. Every couple of hours. Before Tuesday’s game at the AAC was over, in the sobering minutes after Kerr’s plea, at least five more children and another adult at Robb Elementary in Uvalde died from their injuries.
At a brief press conference from the White House, President Biden asked, “Where in God’s name is our backbone?” Yet he didn’t advocate for a vote or policy. Kerr believes the obvious first step is passage of H.R. 8. Calling their stance “pathetic,” he said 50 senators hold Americans “hostage.”
“So I’m fed up,” Kerr said. “I’ve had enough. We’re going to play the game tonight, but I want every person here, every person listening to this, to think about your own child or grandchild, mother or father, sister, brother.
“How would you feel if this happened to you today?”
As you might imagine, this wasn’t the column I planned to write Tuesday. Either it would be a commentary on what the Mavs should do this summer or an attaboy for pushing the end of the season back at least one more game. Kerr’s impassioned speech changed all that. It’s not that I didn’t have a conscience before Tuesday. It’s not that I don’t have children. We have four. A beautiful grandchild, too.
The problem is that, in this nation, the world’s greatest, people shoot children and people who don’t look like them and no one does anything to stop it from happening again.
So what do the rest of us do?
Steve Kerr reminded us Tuesday that we can’t become numb. We can’t stand by and offer only our condolences and prayers. Tuesday night, it didn’t even seem right to sit among 20,000 people cheering a basketball game and try to spin a sports column out of it. A coach’s words rang truer. They needed to be heard. Even as I’m typing this, though, in the bunker-like interview room where Kerr took his stand, I can still hear the roars.
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