Joakim Noah skips military dinner, cites 'mixed feelings,' anti-war stance

WEST POINT, N.Y. -- New York Knicks center Joakim Noah says he skipped a team dinner at the U.S. Military Academy that featured cadets and a speech by a former colonel because he is against war.

Noah added he had "mixed feelings" about spending time at the academy, where the Knicks are holding training camp this week, because he is opposed to the idea of young troops fighting in wars.

"It's hard for me a little bit. I have a lot of respect for the kids who are out here fighting. But it's hard for me to understand why we have to go to war, why kids have to kill kids around the world," said Noah, explaining his decision not to attend the dinner after a reporter asked him about his experience at the event. "So I have mixed feelings about being here. I'm very proud of this country. I love America, but I just don't understand kids killing kids around the world."

Noah added: "At the end of the day, I'm not anti-troops. It's just not comfortable for me to see kids going out to war and coming back having seen what they've seen, having done what they've done. It's sad for me. It's sad for me because they're just sent out for things that I don't really want to get into it to be honest with you. It's hard for me."

Noah reiterated on Saturday that he loves the United States, and he knows that his stance might not be popular with some.

"It's given me an unbelievable opportunity," he said of the United States. "But I have my views. Not everybody has to agree with them. I respect this is a very sensitive subject. A lot of people have sacrificed for this country, died for this country, so I could understand how some people disagree with the way I feel. But at the end of the day that's what this country is all about."

A West Point spokesman said Friday that Noah's decision to use the academy to make a statement was inappropriate.

"The U.S. Military Academy at West Point develops leaders of character for the defense of our nation," Lt. Col. Christopher Kasker said. "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."

Noah, speaking before West Point issued its response, disputed the idea he was trying to make a statement by missing the dinner when the point was raised by a reporter. He said he just wasn't comfortable in the military setting.

Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said he supported Noah.

"That's his right. He wants to be a part of the team group and do everything the team is doing. He just didn't feel comfortable [attending the dinner]," Hornacek said. "We're not going to pressure him into doing that. We had the speaker who I thought was fantastic. I told him, maybe we can get a little copy, if there's a copy of the speech, just so he can hear some of it. That's his right."

The ex-colonel spoke to the Knicks about "things that he's learned in his experiences and how it can translate into basketball," according to Hornacek.

Hornacek was asked if he understood Noah's point of view.

"Oh, absolutely," Hornacek said. "Jo's done, in all his stuff that he does against gun violence and all that, he just didn't feel comfortable, so that's plenty fine with us."

The Knicks tweeted pictures of Noah speaking to cadets after Friday's practice.

More generally, Noah added that he supports athletes using their platforms to call attention to different social issues, as some have done in recent months.

"I think there's a lot of topics that definitely need to be more than addressed," said Noah, whose foundation, Noah's Arc, is committed to reducing violence in Chicago and elsewhere. "I think it's a very important time right now. I think it's great athletes are taking a stand. But it has to be about more than that. This country's out of control. Kids killing kids. And it has nothing to do with -- people are talking about the anthem but that's not the point. There are things that need to be fixed."