Clippers' Doc Rivers: 'If Donald Trump did his job, players would not be kneeling'

The Clippers offered their support to all those who participated in the NFL’s protests Sunday following President Trump’s comments denouncing players for taking a knee during the national anthem.

The general tone at Clippers media day at their practice facility in Playa Vista Monday was that freedom of expression is a basic player right, in this case to raise awareness of racial inequalities they see in their communities.

“I don’t think that players want to protest,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I think the reason they’re protesting is because they think there’s injustice and there’s prejudice and there’s bigotry. There’re a lot of things that we want [for] our country to be great. I don’t think anyone is upset at ‘Making America Great.’ I think we’re all upset at the word ‘Again.’ When I hear the word ‘Again,’ I’m thinking [going] backwards, going back. That’s what that word means, and I don’t think anyone wants that.

“So, I guess in short, if Donald Trump did his job, players would not be kneeling at the end of the day, ’cause I don’t think anyone wants this country to do poorly. We all are cheering for this country to do well. So, do your job and players will stop kneeling.”

Trump ignited the firestorm Friday night during a rally in Huntsville, Ala., saying NFL owners should get rid of the players that don’t stand for the national anthem. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, say, ‘Get that son of a (expletive) off the field right now, out, he’s fired!’” Trump said.

New Clippers guard Lou Williams, who was acquired from the Houston Rockets in the Chris Paul trade, said NFL players sent a powerful message of solidarity Sunday by standing up against Trump.

“I just want all of us to be mindful of how it started,” Williams said. “This is about police brutality and then everybody looking for equality. I think yesterday’s protest was a direct response to what the president said. … If we’re going to protest something, I want it to be for the actual issues at hand instead of just being spiteful.”

Blake Griffin saw it as an issue of freedom of expression.

“It’s important for guys to speak their minds,” Griffin said. “Everybody has an opinion. … You don’t have to agree with it, but you have to respect people’s opinions, and I like the guys who have been using their platform to do just that.”

Trump also tweeted Saturday that the NBA champion Golden State Warriors would not be invited to the White House because “Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!”

That pulled the NBA into the conversation and it allowed Clippers owner Steve Ballmer to weigh in offering his support to athletes’ rights to protest.

“Let’s stop vilifying athletes who stand up for issues they deem important,” Ballmer tweeted. “Let’s encourage citizen participation.”

Upon hearing about Ballmer, Rivers said that “it’s not just up to athletes” to speak out on matters of importance.

“And I don’t think this is a black issue either, or a woman’s issue,” Rivers said. “This is a human rights issue. I think everyone needs to get involved. … It shouldn’t just be the players. It shouldn’t be just the owners. It should be everyone.”

Etc.

When the Clippers open training camp Tuesday on the campus of the University of Hawaii, Rivers said he’ll have to be careful with some of his players coming off injuries.

Griffin (toe surgery), Danilo Gallinari (right thumb), Austin Rivers (mononucleosis) and Milos Teodosic (calf injuries) all dealt with health issues over the summer.

“I think all of them will be cleared to play tomorrow, so that’s a good thing,” Rivers said. “So we can start out with all of them on the floor. I think the key for all of them is we just have to monitor them and do the right thing to get them ready for the first game.”

Griffin had surgery on the big toe on his right foot about five months ago.

“I feel great health-wise,” Griffin said. “I’ve pretty much done everything over the past month, or month and a half or so. I expect to go tomorrow and not have any setbacks.”

Austin Rivers, who’s been out the past five weeks, said “I feel 100%. So, no excuses.”

broderick.turner@latimes.com

Twitter: @BA_Turner

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