The “Freedom” jersey I don on the basketball court is not just a garment. It represents what many people are suffocating without.
America has been grappling with the hard truths of racial inequality in the wake of the Minneapolis Police killing of George Floyd in May. The shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., last month has confirmed that it’s going to be a long road to justice and equality.
Black Lives Matter protests across the nation have echoed around the globe, from Australia to Britain, where millions of freedom-loving people have taken to the streets to advocate for the rights and freedoms of Black people.
Yet police brutalities against Black people continue, a strong signal that our fight should not stop until everyone is treated equally.
I am fortunate to have a public platform to voice my opinions, and I never forget the responsibility that comes with it. We are people before we are athletes. I have previously used this platform to voice concerns about the abuse of human rights in my home country of Turkey — and I will also use it to speak against racial inequalities in the United States and elsewhere. The United States is my second home. It accepted and welcomed me as a teenager, and I owe it to its people to give back.
I wear a “Freedom” jersey when I play in the NBA in part because I owe it to the people who are out in the streets fighting for justice. This fight has always been personal. It hits home. Tens of thousands of innocent people are locked up in Turkish jails, paying the price of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s disdain for human rights. Men, women, and even children are locked up for even the slightest dissent against the government. Countless numbers of journalists, professors, lawyers, teachers — my country’s greatest minds — are denied the opportunity to work in our society.
Ever since Erdogan expanded the scope of presidential powers and scrapped the position of the prime minister in his egotistical mania in 2017, everyday life for those who do not agree with his policies has been stifled. As many as 150,000 people have been suspended from their jobs — with tens of thousands of families destroyed in the process.
With the recent shooting of Jacob Blake, and the turbulent history of racial abuse in the United States, I can’t help but think that this is how Black people in America feel as well. Innocent people who want to be free to live their lives find it destroyed if they catch the eye of the wrong police officer. This is the unfortunate fate that has befallen George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other Blacks in America.
The effects of racial injustice are generational. What happens today is not the result of a few years of injustice. If we don’t stop this immediately, we are looking at decades more of social injustice, legacies of hardship passed from parents to their children.
This fight for social justice, freedom, and human rights goes beyond my commitment to giving back to the community as an athlete. The Black Lives Matter movement screams for the same attention from the nation. The recent NBA strike of players against the playoff games, the biggest sports walkout in history, was a declaration that things need to change. Anyone who truly values democratic values can’t just talk about social justice, freedom, and human rights. We have to garner global media attention for these issues, educate communities, and urge people to vote for change.
And this is exactly why I cannot just play my game and mind my own business. This is my real life. I know that freedom doesn’t come free. In fact, the process of fighting for it has taken away everything from me. But I am determined to go on.
The global outrage after George Floyd’s death is corroboration for all of us that we make a tremendous difference if we are persistent. And I am sure that, one day, we will be on the right side of history. I am hopeful that our fight will soon pay off so that words like social justice, democracy, and freedom aren’t just words on our NBA jerseys — but something we all can experience in our everyday lives.
Enes Kanter is a center for the Boston Celtics and a human rights activist.