John Calipari drops ball while questioning Kentucky's player protest of Capitol violence
John Calipari questioned the timing of his players' protests against the attack on the US Capitol. (AP Photo / James Crisp)
John Calipari has meticulously honed his reputation as a player-coach.
As a recruiting titan, he's rebuilt the blue-blooded Kentucky basketball program in his own image, a haven for five-star talent to compete for championships and, more importantly, develop as men and NBA prospects.
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That is the message that Calipari is selling every chance it gets - and every time a camera is around that is regularly running.
He went dramatically from the news on Wednesday speaking of a recent protest by the players against last week's violence on Capitol Hill.
Kentucky's players protest
Calipari players issued a statement following the deadly attack by a group of supporters of President Donald Trump on the U.S. Capitol last week. They knelt during the national anthem ahead of Saturday's game against SEC rivals Florida.
"It's a lot of stuff that happens every day that we kneel down for," said striker Keion Brooks. "The Capitol - that stuff - had to play a role, but there are some other things that we don't see every day that are unacceptable and that we want to take a stand against."
Calipari reluctantly joined them.
"I held my heart, but I knelt with them because I support the guys," Calipari explained.
Calipari in protest: "Probably not a really good time for that"
On Wednesday, the Kentucky coach distanced himself from the players' decision to kneel under increasing political pressure.
"I only knew 90 minutes before the game," Calipari told reporters at a press conference. "We've had a conversation about it since then - you don't have to talk, you have to act," Calipari said. “How do you bring people together? How do you make a difference? Not just how do you make a statement? ...
"You are 18 years old. You are studying. These children are good children. They have good hearts. This political time is probably not a very good time for it."
He went on to reiterate that his players thought it was the right time to protest and repeatedly stated that the protest was not about the military. Which of course it wasn't. Even the NFL has long since given up on that facade to distract from the real problems.
So when is the right time for it?
Calipari's attitude raises numerous questions. Not as obvious as: If not now, when is the right time?
Changes in this country are often triggered by people expressing their right of first adjustment to freedom of expression. Athletes from various sports postponed the conversation about social justice and voting rights in 2020, a year that saw a national race bill and the most momentous elections of our lives.
To assert oneself or to kneel in the face of white supremacy and right-wing extremism shown in Washington last Wednesday takes courage. Especially in a state that is politically as red as Kentucky.
The group of mostly black teenagers in Kentucky showed that courage on Saturday. Calipari - a 61-year-old white man - has since huddled in the face of political backlash.
The story goes on
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