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With sadness and anger all around, we need faith more than ever. Here’s how the Celtics are helping to find it

Celtics team chaplain, the Rev. Robert Gray (right), with Terry Rozier in 2017.Jim Davis/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

If there is any time we need faith, well here it is. This very moment. This very day. And we need an unlimited supply.

As we attempt to transition through the coronavirus, return to everyday life even though it’s not completely safe, there is no vaccine and we have no idea where and when we could contract the virus, we are also trying to digest that America is not as open-minded and tolerant as we thought it was.

Some athletes have taken to social media to express their sadness and anger following the tragic death of George Floyd on May 25 at the hands of Minneapolis police. Celtics Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Enes Kanter, and Vincent Poirier participated in recent protests. They are young men who want change.


Many younger people, not only of color and African-American but white, have taken to peaceful protesting while others have engaged in volatile acts. Anger is prevalent and understandable. But somewhere in the middle of this chaos, faith and belief has to prevail, doesn’t it?

There has to be moves we all can take to improve our situation and that way could be taking a major step toward belief, meaning there is one divine way for us to behave, treat each other and advance our cause.

Celtics team chaplain Rev. Robert Gray holds weekly Zoom calls with athletes looking for this faith. They are seeking answers that may only be held by more righteous living. It is these types of stressful and harrowing life moments where we question our faith, we ask how people such as Derek Chauvin could show no mercy for Floyd, where we ask who would allow a virus to take so many of our friends and loved ones.

Gray, 68, is in his 41st season of mentoring athletes and re-energizing their faith. These are bizarre and painful times, one that could challenge beliefs and mental health. Athletes are no different. They doubt themselves. They question what’s happening in this chaotic world. They go to Gray for support, for reassurance.


A man who has watched dozens of protests, witnessed upheaval in Boston for the past 50 years, said he has no issue with peaceful protests. Passivism does not foster change.

“If you see injustice and you keep quiet and you don’t use your tongue to come out against it, then you’re just as bad as the perpetrator of the injustice,” he said. “When things get crazy is when you decide to do something that God is not pleased with. It’s the same thing as happens when these police officers take the law into their own hands and decide to dispense their own form of justice.

“I don’t have a problem with people using their voices and taking to the streets and marching to sound the alarm that there’s injustices going on. That’s what we’re supposed to go. Now the burning and looting? That’s your thing; you can’t find that in Scripture.”

Gray holds chapel one hour prior to every Celtics’ home game. He walks through each locker room to inform players from both teams of the 6:30 p.m. start and a handful of players stroll to an auxiliary room at TD Garden to get a boost of faith and inspiring words before they sacrifice their bodies against other world-class athletes.


Lately, with sports taken away and until recently with no indication of when they may resume, a number of athletes have looked to Gray for encouragement. Having your livelihood taken away can challenge your mental health. Watching people murdered in the street can challenge your sanity.

“I haven’t heard any conversation that hasn’t been about that we need to really look at who we are and where want to go and how we want to get there,” Gray said. “It’s an eye opener, it’s something that came from nowhere. And then George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor happens and it hit us hard.”

For those who question faith, question whether there is a higher being — regardless of which one you praise — in this tumultuous world, the answer is simple. In his masterpiece “God is Love,” Marvin Gaye sang, “He made this world for us to live in, and gave us everything. And all he asks of us is we give each other love.”

“The whole goal is to take what God gave us and make it better,” Gray said. “We have perverted that. We have taken the blessing that he’s given us and used them for our own personal gain. If we know that there are some people not doing what’s in the best interest of others, we have to be bold enough to stand up and say that. We’ve dropped the ball. We haven’t said the right thing.

“We haven’t stood up for the little man. We haven’t stood up for those that are oppressed.”


Several professional sports teams — the latest the New York Knicks — have released statements. Many prominent white athletes have spoken out against racism and discrimination. There is a collective awareness in the sports world — just as in society — that matters aren’t fair or equal, that America isn’t the kind and welcoming place it has always claimed to be.

So what’s next? How can we turn these worlds into action and not just another passing trend that dissipates as soon as we are allowed to resume our normal lives?

“I encourage you to find one or two things that really move you that you can do to make change happen,” Gray said. “Everyone wants to move mountains but let’s just start moving the pebbles in front of you. God will give everybody a vision, just take the vision you have and you give that your all. You make that vision come true and if everybody does that, you’ll know society is beginning to change.”

So let’s get to work.

Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him @GwashburnGlobe.