Memphis Grizzlies coach speaks out on Confederate monument removal

The head coach of the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies is calling for Confederate statues in the city to be removed from public spaces and instead placed in museums.

David Fizdale spoke out in a recent interview about his views on the city’s two Confederate statues – of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, and Nathan Bedford Forrest, an early member of the Ku Klux Klan – saying the statues should be preserved in some way.

“I’m not even saying tear them up and melt them down,” Fizdale told NBA.com. “Put them in their proper context in history. Their proper context is in a civil rights museum, where you could put them in context and talk about how awful they were. I just feel our citizens should not have to see that involuntarily.” 

The coach’s comments are the latest in a months-long battle to remove the two statues, erected in 1904 and 1965, from Memphis. A petition launched in June to remove the monuments attracted over 4,600 signatures. 

All 12 members of the Memphis City Council agreed Tuesday if the Tennessee Historical Commission refuses to remove the monuments, the city will take them down anyway. A final vote on the ordinance is set for Oct. 3.

Fizdale compared the controversial monuments, which some people believe represent heritage and not racial division, to Nazi statues and symbols that have been banned from public display in Germany.

“When it’s left up to the state and the state puts it in the hands of a committee who thinks they’re preserving history without the thought of humanity, just thinking about their common man and what they’ve experienced…are there statues of Hitler all throughout Germany?,” Fizdale said. “No. You’re not going to do that to your citizens.”

Fizdale said the city's white population needed to become more engaged in the process.

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“Because until this becomes absolutely unacceptable to you, it’ll continue,” Fizdale told NBA.com. “We need everybody to get involved right now. I know my wife and I, we’ll definitely be right there in the trenches, on the front line, spreading peace and love and trying to build real communities with people from all walks of life that are facing the exact same problems.”

Although activists who want the Confederate symbols removed have praised the council’s vote, some have criticized the city’s mayor for protecting the monuments.

"Our stance is for the protection of life and people and allowing them to enjoy the park safely," Memphis Police Department Deputy Director Ryall told the Commercial Appeal, adding the city spent an extra $25,000 to cover the costs of keeping the peace during rallies near the monuments.