Bill Russell has joined the growing group of prominent names who have weighed in on the recent wave of national anthem protests in the NFL.
On Tuesday, the NBA legend tweeted a photo of himself wearing his Presidential Medal of Freedom and resting on one knee. It was a striking symbol of solidarity with the NFL protestors, who have weathered multiple criticisms from President Donald Trump.
While Russell’s account has yet to be verified, Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck reported that the NBA has confirmed the photo came from the longtime Boston Celtic. Take a look:
— TheBillRussell (@BillRus73270016) September 25, 2017
It appears that Russell created the Twitter account specifically to post the photo. The above message was his first tweet, and the only other posts on his timeline are assurances that the account is real and this graphic from “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee,” which attacks the idea of “acceptable protest.”
Russell’s decision to wear his Medal of Freedom, awarded to him by Barack Obama in 2011, was significant. The medal is the highest civilian award in the US and was given to Russell in recognition of his “helping change the culture of a sport and the course of our nation.”
Trump hasn’t pulled any punches on the NFL protests, encouraging owners to fire the protestors and continuing with an onslaught of tweets over the weekend. By posing with the Medal of Freedom, Russell seems to be making a statement on how the White House has changed its values since last Election Day.
Russell, 83, developed a reputation for being outspoken on social issues over the course of a long and decorated NBA career. The Louisiana native won a staggering 11 consecutive championships in the 1950s and ’60s and became the first black head coach of a major US professional sport in 1966.
But his time with the Celtics wasn’t all fun and games. In his 1979 memoir “Second Wind,” Russell wrote about his experience playing in Boston during the Civil Rights era.
“Boston itself was a flea market of racism,” Russell wrote, according to The Boston Globe’s Adrian Walker. “It had all varieties, old and new, and in their most virulent form. The city had corrupt, city hall-crony racists, brick-throwing, send-’em-back-to-Africa racists, and in the university areas phony radical-chic racists. … Other than that, I liked the city.”
Russell was again recognized for his outspokenness just last fall, when he was given Sports Illustrated’s Muhammad Ali Legacy Award.