Bill Russell has been active in protesting and speaking out on social causes for more than half a century. So when he saw president Donald Trump tweeting about the necessity for NFL players to stand during the national anthem—a wedge issue to which Trump has clung for nearly four years—it was no surprise that Russell had a response.
Trump tweeted after Saints quarterback Drew Brees apologized for comments last week about kneeling during the anthem as a form of protest being disrespectful.
“I am a big fan of Drew Brees,” Trump tweeted. “I think he’s truly one of the greatest quarterbacks, but he should not have taken back his original stance on honoring our magnificent American Flag. OLD GLORY is to be revered, cherished, and flown high… We should be standing up straight and tall, ideally with a salute, or a hand on heart. There are other things you can protest, but not our Great American Flag – NO KNEELING!”
Russell fired back with a photo, taken in September 2017, of himself on one knee his Presidential Medal of Freedom around his neck: “#Trump you projected your narrative that #TakingAKnee is disrespectful & #UnAmerican it was never about that! You are divisive & a coward. It takes true courage 2 stand 4 what is right & risk your life in the midst of a #pandemic #Proud2kneel #BlackLivesMatter”
#Trump you projected your narrative that #TakingAKnee is disrespectful & #UnAmerican it was never about that! You are divisive & a coward. It takes true courage 2 stand 4 what is right & risk your life in the midst of a #pandemic #Proud2kneel #BlackLivesMatter @MSNBC @BostonGlobe https://t.co/nhNITHSrxo pic.twitter.com/h0PuUYVFwu
— TheBillRussell (@RealBillRussell) June 7, 2020
Bill Russell has Bashed Donald Trump Before
This is hardly the first time Russell, who is 86 years old and was the first Black coach of a major American pro sports team with the Celtics, has tangled with Trump in recent years.
In 2018, when Trump was criticizing Russell’s fellow Black Americans, he sent out a tweet of support, citing CNN anchor Don Lemon, California Rep. Maxine Waters, Georgia Rep. John Lewis and NBA star LeBron James.
Being criticized by Trump, Russell said, “means you must be doing something right! As I have said before- Its the biggest compliment you can get.”
At this time & place for any African American, @KingJames @donlemon @RepMaxineWaters @repjohnlewis & #NFL plyrs to be criticised by @realdonaldtrump means you must be doing something right! As I have said before- Its the biggest compliment you can get. @TwitterSports @MSNBC @CNN
— TheBillRussell (@RealBillRussell) August 5, 2018
In 2018, when Trump reportedly called countries that had undergone natural disasters and other devastation from which immigrants were coming to the U.S., “s—hole countries,” Russell asked on Twitter, “Is (Trump) aware the first people to come here from “S—hole” countries did not come willingly, they came as slaves to build this country and the White House?”
Is @realDonaldTrump aware the first people to come here from #"SHIThole" countries did not come willingly, they came as slaves to build this country and the White House #Racismhasnologic @Lawrence @CNN @NBA @JoyAnnReid @FoxNews @POTUS #MLKDay2018
— TheBillRussell (@RealBillRussell) January 12, 2018
Bill Russell’s Long Civil Rights History
Russell’s history with civil rights protesting goes back to the early 1960s when he was an All-Star center for the Celtics. In 1963, he was invited to the March on Washington by Martin Luther King Jr., who gave his famed, “I Have a Dream,” speech that day.
Russell spoke at the 50th anniversary of the March from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
“I was sitting in the first row 50 years ago,” Russell joked. “It’s nice to be anywhere 50 years later.”
Russell said he declined King’s invitation to be on the stage because he felt he had not done enough to warrant a spot. He would go on to continue the push for civil rights and was part of the famed Cleveland meeting in 1967 to support Muhammad Ali’s refusal to fight in the Vietnam War. With Russell were the likes of Jim Brown, Bobby Mitchell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor.
At the 50th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech, still three years ahead of Trump’s election, Russell said the fight for racial justice was still just beginning.
“Now, lately, I’ve heard a lot about how far we’ve come in 50 years,” Russell said. “But from my point of view, you only register progress by how far you have to go. … I’m here to join you, and to implore you, the fight has just begun. We can never accept the status quo until the word progress is taken out of our vocabulary.”