Bill Russell after viral tweet: ‘Tell those NFL players, I’m with them’
To say Bill Russell’s debut on social media earlier this week was an auspicious one would be a drastic understatement. The NBA legend earlier this week tweeted out his support for NFL players protesting the national anthem and the post quickly went viral.
The now-famous social media dispatch featured a photograph of himself kneeling with a Presidential Medal of Freedom draped around his neck. The message? “Proud to take a knee and stand tall against social injustice.”
Proud to take a knee, and to stand tall against social injustice." #takeaknee #medaloffreedom #NFL #BillRussell #MSNBC pic.twitter.com/1MhinoAcW7
— TheBillRussell (@BillRus73270016) September 25, 2017
Russell is a lifelong devotee to social justice causes, a trailblazer in the NBA when it came to African-American players’ role in growing the league in the 1950s and 1960s and an icon of the civil rights movement (more on that here). In fact, Russell joined Martin Luther King Jr. at the 1963 civil rights march in Washington D.C. The medal around his neck in his debut tweet was awarded to him in 2011 by then-President Barack Obama for his lifetime of dedication to social activism.
So, when the 83-year-old started seeing the backlash directed at NFL players for their protests — which took on a new life after President Donald Trump condemned acts of protest during the national anthem — Russell decided he had to act.
“What I wanted,” Russell told ESPN in an exclusive interview, “was to let those guys know I support them. I wanted them to know they are not alone.”
Interestingly, Russell’s Twitter account at the time of the tweet wasn’t even verified, although the NBA has since assisted Russell in getting the patented blue check on his handle.
Russell, when discussing his tweeted support for the activism by current pro athletes, recalled a song he used to listen to during times of struggles during his career. It’s the Rodgers and Hammerstein song “You Never Walk Alone” from the musical “Carousel.”
“When I was heavily criticized for my stance (on social justice) — and you know I was — I would go to my records and put that song on and play it,” Russell explained. “At the end of the storm, there’s a golden sky …
“Just tell those NFL players, I’m with them.”