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Gary Washburn | on basketball

After another disheartening day for the NBA, players are inspired to speak their minds on continuing injustice

The Celtics kneeled during the national anthem before Wednesday night's game against Heat at Miami.
The Celtics kneeled during the national anthem before Wednesday night's game against Heat at Miami.Marta Lavandier/Associated Press

For those who believe athletes should stick to sports, that they are merely well-paid entertainers playing a kid’s game with nothing to offer our society besides a thunderous dunk or picturesque 3-point shot, there will be plenty of infuriating days ahead because nights such as Wednesday will continue as long as there is perceived injustice.

Those NBA players could not help but flip on their televisions or phones and watch as Trump supporters stormed the Capitol Wednesday, occupied offices of politicians, climbed walls, broke windows, and strolled hallways without much resistance from law enforcement. Only dozens of arrest were made so far of the hundreds of people who raided the Capitol and there were four casualties.

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Those players reflected on the protests following the George Floyd killing, the altercations between marchers and law enforcement. President Trump called those protesters “looters” and “thugs.” On Wednesday, he lauded Capitol rioters for their enthusiasm and advised them to go home. Many of the Trump supporters at the Capitol walked away safely, high-fiving, feeling as if they were patriots, fighting for a worthy cause, what they claim was an unjust election.

‘I don’t think any of us were really surprised, that what happened transpired today. I think that America is kind of built on racism, that’s the foundation. We don’t even flinch or shift to any of those ideas. I think it [understandable] for a lot of people to be upset. All of us felt the same way but using this platform that we have is important to us. We are role models. We are members of our community. We do have people looking up to us and we want to know where we stand. We want the next generation to know hopefully it’s better than this one.’

Jaylen Brown

A day after the officer who shot Jacob Blake, a Black man in Kenosha, Wis., avoided any criminal charges for the August incident, the Celtics players met in their locker room prior to their game with the Heat at Miami. They considered not playing. They considered just going back to Boston, disheartened by the events of the past two days.

After finally exerting their power in the NBA bubble in Orlando, players are embracing their impact on social issues. The game has become less important. They are men. They are men with families. They were shaken by watching a bunch of Trump supporters loot the Capitol while a Minneapolis officer kept his knee on the neck of Floyd for 8 minutes and 46 seconds for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill.

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Such inequities encourage these players to not only speak with words but with actions. They decided to play against the Heat with the teams releasing a joint statement prior to the game. The protests of social issues were not just left in the bubble.

Wednesday’s events were a reminder that very little has changed, despite the efforts of the players and negotiations with the NBA and its governors to foster improvement.

The players could barely celebrate the impact of the increased voter participation in the elections in Georgia before being shaken back into harsh reality by the “protests” at the Capitol.

Jaylen Brown has been active in off-court issues.
Jaylen Brown has been active in off-court issues.Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

“In one America, you get killed by sleeping in your car, selling cigarettes or playing in your backyard,” Celtics forward Jaylen Brown said after the Celtics’ 107-105 win. “In another America you get to storm the Capitol. No tear gas. No massive arrests. None of that. It’s 2021 and I don’t think anything has changed. We want to still acknowledge that.”

The Celtics were close to walking out on this game, which was nationally televised and highly anticipated. In the bubble, the players boycotted games for three days following the Blake shooting and were only encouraged to play after hours of intense meetings between players, as they agreed that playing would bring more attention to their concerns.

That’s not necessarily the case anymore. While the Celtics and Heat carried out an exciting game that came down to the final seconds, the players still walked off the floor facing the same social climate as before the NBA bubble.

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While these players watched as one of their athletic brethren, Colin Kaepernick, was blackballed from the NFL for kneeling during the national anthem, they watched President Trump address Wednesday’s rioters as if they were sympathetic figures, waging a valiant but futile war against injustice and a flawed, prejudiced system.

Meanwhile, NBA players, especially those who are Black, responded with essentially, “Oh really?”


“I don’t think any of us were really surprised, that what happened transpired today,” Brown said. “I think that America is kind of built on racism, that’s the foundation. We don’t even flinch or shift to any of those ideas. I think it [understandable] for a lot of people to be upset. All of us felt the same way but using this platform that we have is important to us. We are role models. We are members of our community. We do have people looking up to us and we want to know where we stand. We want the next generation to know hopefully it’s better than this one.”

But improving the situation is a process. Yet, it’s heartening to see these young men realize their power is more than to just entertain and excite. They can encourage change. And it’s up to us to view them as more than just athletic freaks or exceptional ballplayers. They are capable of being leaders and role models.

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“We want to keep those conversations alive,” Brown said. “We want to compartmentalize but at the same time we want to voice our opinions through the media, through our platforms to let people know this is not OK. There are people who have lost their lives that shouldn’t have lost their lives. Deadly force should be the last result in terms of handling an equation or problem.

“We’ve seen too many people on camera losing their lives and we have to explain that to our nieces, our nephews. It’s hard looking at them and telling them it’s going to change when it’s not. We want to continue to keep having those conversations. As athletes, our responsibility is more than being a basketball player. We’re not here to just entertain and go home. We are members of our community. Let’s just try to use our platform for good and inspire some great change.”



Gary Washburn can be reached at gary.washburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.