New York Knicks center Joakim Noah became the latest professional athlete to stand on a political soapbox when he refused to attend a team dinner with Army cadets because of his anti-war beliefs, according to The New York Post.
The Knicks were conducting their third straight preseason training camp in West Point, N.Y., which is also the home of the U.S. Military Academy (USMA). Noah said he was “uncomfortable” attending the camp at the home of the one of the nation’s military service academies.
“It’s hard for me a little bit — I have a lot of respect for the kids here fighting — but it’s hard for me to understand why we go to war and why kids have to kill kids all around the world,’’ Noah said. “I have mixed feelings about being here. I’m very proud of this country. I love America. I don’t understand kids killing kids around the world.’’
Noah, who spent the last nine seasons with the Chicago Bulls, was the only Knick player to skip the Sept. 29 dinner, which included over 4,000 cadets and a speech from retired Col. Steve Merkel.
“The U.S. Military Academy at West Point develops leaders of character for the defense of our nation,” Lt. Col. Christopher Kasker, a West Point spokesman, said in a statement. “We are disappointed and feel Mr. Noah’s choice of West Point to make a statement is inappropriate because of the great sacrifice that has originated from this institution over our nation’s history.”
Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek said Noah was within his rights to skip the dinner. The team looked to end any controversy by issuing photos of Noah meeting with West Point cadets after a practice. Knicks officials also said that Noah spoke to an army officer and said he did not mean to “offend” the cadets by sitting out the event.
“I’m not a patriotic person,” said Noah, adding that people should “should support other people’’ more than “flags.’’
The Post reported that Noah is a dual citizen of the United States and France, and runs a foundation called Noah’s Arc that benefits children and fights gun violence.
“I spent a lot of time in Chicago in the neighborhoods trying to fight the gun violence,” Noah said. “The truth is we’re losing big time. It’s just sad not enough is being done about it. This is the best country in the world, most powerful country in the world, and you go into some of these neighborhoods and feel you’re in a Third World country or war zone.’’
Noah did not say he would kneel for the playing of the national anthem before games, but said that he supports NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has knelt during the anthem as a form of protest this season.