Nolan Dalla

Why Don’t Sports Personalities Stay Out of Politics?




To try and answer this question, allow me to share Steve Kerr’s story. He’s the head coach of the Golden State Warriors, who has won four NBA championships (plus, five more as a player).

Kerr has been an outspoken political advocate for many years. He’s been a vocal critic of the former President. Kerr has also been passionate about issues like gun violence, immigration, race and gender equality, international affairs, and current events.  If you don’t know much about Kerr and think of him just as a basketball coach well, read on.

Many sports fans take issue with sports personalities such as Kerr sharing their personal opinions and political views. “Stick to basketball!” is a common criticism leveled at high-profile athletes who participate in largely minority-dominated sports.  Oddly enough, these criticisms are almost always spewed by someone who thinks *their* freedom of speech is more important than that of a sports coach or an athlete. It would be like Kerr shouting back, “Stick to plumbing!” Or, “Stick to driving a truck!”

What many critics might not know is that everyone who cares about issues of the day usually has a backstory that should instill greater intellectual curiosity and more civic engagement. Kerr’s is particularly compelling.

In case you didn’t know Steve Kerr’s story:

Stephen Kerr was born in Beruit, Lebanon. He lived there during most of his childhood and grew up in the middle of a civil war.

His father was a Lebanese-American academic who specialized in the Middle East. His grandfather, Stanley Kerr, volunteered with the Near East Relief and rescued women and orphans throughout the Middle East before eventually settling in Beirut.

Kerr spent much of his childhood in Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries. While in Beirut in the summer of 1983, he met several U.S. Marines who were later killed in the Beirut barracks bombings. Kerr later attended Cairo American College in Egypt as well as the American Community School in Beirut.

In 1984, his father, Malcolm Kerr, was killed by members of the Shia Lebanese militia called Islamic Jihad while serving as president of the American University of Beirut. He was shot twice in the back of his head. Kerr was 18 years old at the time. Regarding his father’s death, upon reflection Kerr said: “Before my father was killed, my life was impenetrable. Bad things happened to other people.”

After the terrible violence and devastating loss, Kerr moved back to the United States. It was largely a country he didn’t know. He enrolled at the University of Arizona and made the basketball team. During games, Kerr was sometimes taunted by fans of opposing teams, with chants that included “PLO” and “Where’s your father?”

Somehow, he shook it all off. He even made it to the NBA. Kerr went on to enjoy a pretty successful basketball career.

What can we learn from Kerr’s extraordinary example: Well, first — life’s destiny can go in the least expected direction. Second, we are the sum of our experiences. Finally, Kerr (and others) should speak out on controversial issues they care deeply about. Some are worth listening to, just because of who they are. Others merit compassion and concern just because of what they endured. And others deserve respect for having suffered an incalculable loss, survived, and somehow gone on to greatness despite the heavy burden of personal tragedy.

Whatever Kerr wants to talk about — basketball, gun violence, Middle East politics, or how we can build a better world…..I’m listening.


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