John Calipari is rolling down a slippery slope. On Wednesday, the championship coach, who has helped 35 players get drafted to the NBA in the last decade, criticized the timing of a protest led by his current players before their game against Florida on Jan. 9. Before tipoff against the Gators, Kentucky players decided to kneel during the National Anthem because they wanted to “take a stand” against the multiple injustices they continue to see in this country. Calipari knelt with them in the moment, but it’s clear now that he had some reservations about the players’ actions.
“I didn’t know about it until 90 minutes before the game,” Calipari told reporters on Wednesday. “We’ve had a talk since then about — you don’t need to speak, you need to have action,” Calipari said. “How do you bring people together? How do you make a difference? Not just how do you make a statement?”
“They’re 18 years old. They’re learning,” Calipari continued. “These kids are good kids. They’ve got good hearts. This political time, probably not a real good time to do it.”
Calipari is off-base on multiple things here. First, there is no “proper” time to protest. The whole point is to shed light on issues that are being ignored. There will never be a “right” time for people who don’t want to hear what you have to say.
Secondly, it isn’t the players’ job to bring people together at this moment. The majority of the roster for Kentucky is composed of young Black males. They have been one of the most undervalued groups in the nation since its inception. It’s not on them to take the biggest steps to bring this country together. It’s on the oppressors and the people who have benefited from white privilege to help bridge the gap in this nation.
Lastly and most importantly, how do you not stand behind your players 100 percent in this scenario? They are using their first amendment right to shed light on how jacked up this country has been to them and people who look like them for centuries. If the incident at the Capitol on Jan. 6 didn’t wake you up to see that there is a huge problem that still exists in this country, I don’t know what will. Calipari later sent out a tweet on Thursday saying “ I STAND WITH, FOR AND BY MY PLAYERS. ALWAYS HAVE AND ALWAYS WILL! “ in all caps.
Let’s not forget that Calipari makes $9.2 million a years as college basketball’s highest-paid coach. His players work for free.
“It’s a lot of stuff that goes on every day that we knelt for,” said Kentucky forward Keion Brooks after the team knelt. “The Capitol — that stuff —had a part to play in it, but there are some other things we don’t see that go on every day that are unacceptable, that we want to take a stand against.”
And some of those other things reared their ugly heads after the game against Florida. A sheriff in a small Kentucky town went on social media to light Kentucky gear on fire and demand that the university “get a real man to lead the cats and a real team.”
Every single member of one southern Kentucky county Fiscal Court signed a resolution calling for the state of Kentucky to defund the institution after the players’ protest. Knox county Judge Executive Mike Mitchell explained his reasoning for the resolution to the Times-Tribune.
“The University of Kentucky receives millions and millions of dollars every year of hardworking Kentucky taxpayers’ money,” said Mitchell. “I think they need to be held accountable for their actions if they can’t manage it no better than that.”
Mitchell said this as if Black people and others who disagree with him don’t pay those same taxes. These individuals are likely more upset with a young Black man exercising his rights than they are with a group of domestic terrorists endangering government employees at the nation’s Capitol. This is the reason why these players knelt in the first place.
If this Kentucky team weren’t 4-7 on the season, would people still be this upset by their actions? Would Calipari? Would he stay behind this team if they were undefeated and ranked top-five in the country? If I’m a Kentucky player, and I hear those comments made by my head coach, I would be looking at him sideways. Not only did he criticize our protest, but now he’s telling us what we should be feeling and communicating to the public when we are the ones being discriminated against.
If Calipari isn’t careful he could be treading into dangerous territory with his players. He missed the mark with comments and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of his players aren’t too happy about it.