Cut Gregg Popovich and he'd bleed red, white and blue.

The Spurs coach, a 1966 Merrillville grad, played ball at the Air Force Academy and majored in Soviet Studies. He's a true patriot who'll sound off the instant he sees injustice.

There is no muzzle on him when it comes to sports and politics. Both are fair game.

Monday, the NBA held media day throughout the league and while most teams chose to talk about their upcoming season, Popovich used his celebrity to preach from the pulpit of social responsibility.

President Donald Trump’s scathing comments about athletes who kneel in protest during the national anthem has induced a huge pushback in the sports world, causing an even bigger divide in the country.

At a Friday rally in Huntsville, Alabama, Trump said NFL owners should fire players for disrespecting the American flag. He called any player who kneels during the anthem a “son of a (bleep)" and has refused to apologize for it.

Here's the dilemma: Trump is talking about honoring the American flag and our country. Athletes argue that this is all about freedom of speech and expression, which the American flag stands for.

We have two colossal issues butting heads, with neither side backing down.

"Our country is an embarrassment in the world," Popovich told reporters at media day Monday.

He then chuckled when asked about Trump rescinding the NBA champion Golden State Warriors' invitation to the White House.

"I thought it was comical that it was rescinded because they weren't going to go any way," Popovich said. "It's like a sixth-grader is going to have a party in his backyard and he finds out somebody might not come, so he disinvites them.

"Although it's disgusting, it's also comical."

Popovich said he was shocked at how some NASCAR owners have spoken out against their drivers protesting, specifically Richard Childress, who was Dale Earnhardt's longtime team owner. He said if anyone protests, "It'll get you a ride on a Greyhound bus."

A ride out of town, that is.

Richard Petty, owner of NASCAR's Petty Motorsports, said anyone who protests should leave the country.

"That's where I live," Popovich said. "I had no idea that I lived in a country where people would actually say that sort of thing."

Pop added that he'd never tell his players how to act during the national anthem.

"Each one of them has the right and the ability to say what they would like to say and act the way they would like to act," Popovich said. "They have our full support.

"No matter what they might want to do or not do, it is important to them to be respected by us, and there is no recrimination, no matter what might take place unless it's ridiculously egregious."

During Sunday's NFL games, some teams like the Bears stood with arms locked during the anthem, others had players who knelt or stayed in the dressing room.

And it's beginning to spread to other pro sports.

Again, no disrespect intended, they all claimed. They were just protesting social injustice.

At Bulls' media day, vice president of basketball operations John Paxson was asked if his players will stand or kneel this season. You could tell the question made him very uncomfortable.

"We met with the team earlier and it's something we're going to talk about again and come to some agreement on what to do. I'll let it go at that," Paxson said. "We understand the magnitude of what's going on and how divisive things are right now.

"The great thing about sports is how it can bring people together and that's what I think you're going see happen more and more now because of what's going on."

Newly acquired Zach LaVine said whatever the team decides, they'll do it together.

Popovich emphasized that people need to come together, now more than ever, in spite of everything that is going on politically.

At the moment, though, we have two divided camps ruled by emotion.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com.

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