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Gregg Popovich: Colin Kaepernick ‘was very courageous in what he did’

The Spurs coach believes the former NFL quarterback will be celebrated one day

10:23 AMOAKLAND, Calif. — San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich recalled how Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos are now celebrated despite being vilified after their civil rights protest during the 1968 Mexico City Games. Popovich also recalled sports icon Muhammad Ali being heralded long after being vilified for fighting for his human rights.

In time, Popovich believes former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick will be revered instead of vilified for fighting for social justice.

“He was very courageous in what he did,” Popovich said of Kaepernick before a game against the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night. “He did it for the right reasons. I think the same story will unwind as time goes on.”

Colin Kaepernick (left) and Eric Reid of the San Francisco 49ers kneel in protest during the national anthem before their game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Levi’s Stadium on Oct. 23, 2016, in Santa Clara, California.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

As part of the Warriors’ Black History Month celebration, the Warriors honored Smith during the Spurs game and gave him a jersey. With black-gloved fists raised to the sky and heads down, Smith and Carlos gave a Black Power salute on the medal stand after winning the gold and bronze medals, respectively, in the 200 meters at the 1968 Olympics. Smith and Carlos and their family members received death threats when they returned to America. Now, the former San Jose State track stars, who have a statue on campus, are revered nationally.

Popovich had Carlos speak to the Spurs in October 2015. The longtime Spurs coach also vividly recalled seeing the Black Power salute.

“Those are two special people, for all the obvious reasons,” Popovich said before Wednesday’s game at Oracle Arena. “To speak truth to power, especially in ’68, was pretty special. I can still remember watching that. It was quite dramatic at the time. They paid for it in a lot of different ways. …

“Now they’re basically being lauded for their courage, which is appropriate. Just like Muhammad Ali, everybody hated what he did in the beginning with Vietnam. So they’re two very important figures in our social history and the history of justice in this country.”