Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr launched their "Flying Coach" podcast in April as a way to raise money for COVID-19 relief, and the podcast has covered a number of interesting and entertaining topics with several notable guests over its seven previous episodes. This week, Carroll and Kerr held their most important conversation to date, bringing in San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich for a frank conversation about race and leadership and what can be done to start making America a better place.
Popovich kicks off the conversation by acknowledging the privilege those three all have as white men, saying, "If you were born white, you have a view of the world that does put you in the class of white supremacy. Whether you wield that power negatively or not is beside the point. Most of us don't realize that as we're growing up, it's not something that's in your face… The more that white people face that, the easier it will be to try to come to some understanding so that we can all live together and all prosper in justice."
Popovich talked about the sadness of watching George Floyd being murdered by police in Minneapolis and said, "The overriding feeling was, how in the hell do black people and black people with children deal with something like this, and what can we say or do to help the situation?"
Carroll then discussed the connection he tries to foster with his players and how that translates to the moment we're in now.
"We're trying to interact as much as we can with our guys and hear from them and listen and learn and grow, and find a place where we can act and do something really positive," he said. "Our club has done that over the years, but we need to do more, we're never done… We can't live with an oblivious way of looking at this. We can't do that. It's the privilege that white people have—living oblivious to what's going on, that ain't OK. I'm trying to convey that to my guys that we see it that way and we're trying to learn from each other and see if we can move ahead together."
An important point made by Kerr is that to understand what's going on now, we need to know our history.
"This has been going on forever, it continues on forever," Kerr said. "Why does it keep happening, why has it gone on forever? One of the most important dynamics of all of this is that in our country, there has been a refusal to reconcile the sins of our past. I know people are going to say, 'slavery was abolished during the civil war, that was a long time ago.' Stop it. This is something that is generational; it's 400 years in the making. The thing that has to be done before anything is an understanding, an awareness that there needs to be a reconciliation, an admission of guilt. I don't think it should be a message of, 'Hey all you white people, you should feel guilty, this is your fault.' That's not the point. But this is the way our country is. It's our responsibility to admit that this is what's going on in our country, and let's look at our past and let's truly examine our past."
Added Popovich: "It's not admitting you're guilty of something, but silence or inaction or being oblivious makes you complicit, and that's the point that a lot of people don't' understand. As long as they are not the ones yelling out the N word, or they're not the ones stopping somebody on the street, they're not in the trucks chasing a young black man down, so that makes them innocent—that's not the point. The point is to be aware of the past, of those centuries of treatment, and understanding that emancipation didn't really do a whole lot, because it was followed with reconstruction and Jim Crow and so on and so forth."
Carroll continued that topic saying, "People in the communities of color, they know the pain and the reality, they understand that. The problem lies in the white communities not responding, and the awareness not being adequate enough so that we do see, hear and feel the indiscretions that happened and act on it. There's work to be done, because this oblivious nature is just not OK. One thing would be to say, 'OK, I'm a non-racist person, I don't act in that way in my actions in everyday life.' Well that's not enough, we have to be anti-racist, we have to go the step further, we have to go beyond and take the action. It's going to be a challenge for people, it's hard to step in when you hear a conversation going on and say, 'hey, can we clean that up a little bit?' or whatever you might say to acknowledge the fact that you're not accepting that which is carrying on around you. We have to get bold about that, and that happens through knowledge and education and awareness, and that's why guys like us have to keep talking."
After covering topics like the lack of education when it comes to our country's history with racism, as well as the responsibility of businesses that use their power to fight racism, the conversation eventually got to Colin Kaepernick, the former 49ers quarterback who began protesting racism and police brutality in 2016 by sitting, then later kneeling, during the national anthem, and who has since gone unsigned as a free agent for the past three seasons.
"I think that there was a moment in time that a young man captured," Carroll said when Kerr asked about Kaepernick. "He took a stand on something figuratively—took a knee—but he stood up for something he believed in, and what an extraordinary moment it was that he was willing to take… It elevated awareness from people that just took everything away from what the statement was all about, and it just got tugged and pulled and ripped apart, and the whole mission of what the statement was that such a beautiful—it's still the statement that we're making right today, that we're not protecting our people, we're not looking after one another, we're not making the right choices, we're not following the right process to bring people to justice when actions are taken. So I think it was a big sacrifice that a young man makes, but those are the courageous moments that some guys take, and we owe a tremendous amount to him for sure."
Kerr also asked Carroll about responsibility of coaches to nurture activism on their teams, something Carroll feels passionate about.
"I want our guys to feel comfortable thinking for themselves and feel comfortable with their thoughts and feel comfortable about expressing their thoughts in our environment," Carroll said. "We work to create a culture that allows for that to happen in hopes that they do find their voice and are willing to step out and do stuff. Our guys our really active in the community. The meetings we had on Monday, interestingly our guys talked a lot about voting, they talked a lot about making our voices heard. Coaches admitted they haven't in years past, but they are going to vote like never before. And the players were saying the same thing, 'We're going to make sure we help people around us understand how important it is.' Think about that mentality. Our guys are so better informed and so much smarter than they used to be because they have so much information available to them… I'm really promoting our guys to branch out and reach out, and I'm not afraid of them speaking out. I like them to.
"And I think it's really important. And I don't know how somebody could be at their best unless we keep pushing them that way, we've got to keep pushing them to find themselves and find their voice."