I See Hope: Steve Kerr on a cause close to his heart
The Golden State Warriors are among the Nominees for the Laureus World Team of the Year Award, but their head coach, Steve Kerr, received global attention for speaking out on the subject of gun safety in the wake of a mass shooting. He spoke to Laureus about a cause close to his heart
Steph Curry walked up, stuck his fist out and looked me in the eye. I knew exactly what he was saying.
Well done, coach.
Fifteen minutes earlier, I had sat down for a press conference ahead of Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals. It was May 24, 2022. Earlier that day, 19 school children and two teachers were killed by a teenager with a semi-automatic rifle at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, a few hundred miles from where my Golden State Warriors were about to play the Mavericks.
It was so hard to think about basketball. I decided I was going to say something. I didn't know what. So, I just spoke from the heart.
I’m not going to talk about basketball, I began.
I am a survivor of gun violence. My father was shot and killed in Beirut in 1984. I understand what people are going through when they lose a family member in these circumstances. Total heartbreak. Devastation.
Those are my first thoughts when I hear about another shooting. And then I feel anger. But despite it all, I see hope.
The only thing that's ever going to change our gun laws in this country is if we have enough voters who are fed up and want to force change – for the safety of our children and communities. The only way that happens is through conversation. Those conversations are now happening.
I see hope.
Athletes, musicians, artists – people who are in the limelight can make an impact in a way that politicians can't. It’s about using our platform, knowing that a lot of people are watching. If those people pay attention, it becomes a conversation.
I don't know if advocacy is something that can be taught. An athlete has to be comfortable speaking up in public, and there's a lot that goes into that. I feel comfortable speaking out because my coach Gregg Popovich spoke out. I never sat down with him and said, ‘Hey, what do I need to think about, when I speak out?’ I just watched him and was blown away by his courage. Then I realized he was inspired by other people in the same way.
You can go back to the 1968 Olympics, when the two American sprinters, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, held their fists up with black gloves on. That took incredible courage. We had Tommie come and visit our team a couple of years ago. He told us why he did what he did and the repercussions those actions had for him afterwards.
A strong team culture breeds success, in the form of NBA titles and recognition such as our nomination for the Laureus World Team of the Year Award. I’ve thought a lot about how to build a culture of success at the Warriors. Culture is really nothing more than values. Examples like Tommie are the best way to teach others. I have so much respect for the young athletes in the last few years who have talked about their own mental health. That was taboo when I played. Think how many hundreds of thousands of young people that has impacted and allowed them to say, ‘Okay, it's all right to speak publicly about this’. That's how this should work.
I see hope.
Live Free is a grassroots organization in Oakland, East Bay, close to the Chase Center in San Francisco, where we play in the NBA. It works hard on gun safety and gun violence prevention. I met their executive director Mike McBride just before the pandemic. We hit it off immediately. He's a really charismatic guy, got huge empathy, a leader in his community.
Live Free go into the community and gather together all the people involved in gun violence. Every single touch point: the people who are actually committing crimes – the shooters – victims, family members, politicians, police, mentors, social service organizations. All of them are connected and communicate together. It's the only way everyone can see the big picture. Otherwise, you're just having a series of conversations without a link to one another and not really accomplishing much. Live Free organizes these gatherings once a month and, at the time I met Mike, they had helped the City of Oakland reduce gun violence by 50% over a five-year period. That's when I realized that the things that happen at the grassroots are often the most important.
I see hope.
Then there’s the younger generation. The kids who started March For Our Lives in 2018, at first in response to the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. They're forming a really powerful alliance. I think what's happening nationwide is we are, perhaps unwittingly, growing a generation of people who are going to flip things on its head. In this country, we have a lot that we have to fix. The younger generation – they're living that, suffering from it. But there are so many impressive young people, who are making it their business to seek change. Before long, those are the people who are going to be influencing and winning elections. Any type of societal change takes time. But I have an optimism that the younger generation will be the ones to make real change.