I’ve always subscribed to the theory that in sports actions speak louder than words. The same applies to life. That’s why it was non-negotiable for Jaylen Brown to cut ties with the sports marketing agency of irrational artist Kanye West following West’s recent repeated antisemitic sentiments.
Brown ended up in the right spot, even if he got there a little late. That’s part of the growth and evolution of a 26-year-old taking on more responsibility as a leader, on and off the court. To his credit, Brown has never shied away from that responsibility.
Brown is a man of action on and off the court. He is active in the community and is an outspoken voice for social justice and against systemic racism. He provided an eloquent encomium for the late Bill Russell before the Celtics season opener, declaring that Russell stood taller in life based on what he stood for than he did as a 6-9 center nonpareil.
But his voice and his work would have been undercut if Brown, who said he didn’t condone West’s words, had stayed on with Donda Sports, the sports marketing agency named for West’s late mother. In an about-face, Brown terminated the relationship Tuesday, releasing a statement on social media in which he apologized for any ambiguity inferred from his actions.
“I have always, and will always, continue to stand strongly against any antisemitism, hate speech, misrepresentation, and oppressive rhetoric of any kind,” he wrote, cutting ties with West, known now as Ye, on the same day that Adidas and Los Angeles Rams star Aaron Donald distanced themselves.
“In light of that, after sharing in conversations, I now recognize that there are times when my voice and my position can’t coexist in spaces that don’t correspond with my stance or my values.”
Some are understandably hurt and disappointed that he didn’t arrive at that position sooner. My e-mail inbox is proof. Celtics fans who identified themselves as Jewish expressed dismay that Brown wasn’t questioned sooner, and they found his initial response in an interview with the Globe’s Gary Washburn insufficient.
One understands and cosigns their frustration and criticism of Brown’s initial handling, especially on such a non-negotiable issue.
Brown told Washburn on Monday: “First, I don’t condone any hurt, harm, or danger toward any group of people or individuals whatsoever. I’ve been a member of my community, trying to uplift my community, and I’m going to continue to do that.”
However, Brown also referred to West as “someone who’s obviously dealing with a lot of adversity that’s in front of him right now.”
That wasn’t the right tone. Endangering your career as a rapper, producer, fashion designer, and creative type with antisemitic comments and vitriol isn’t adversity. It’s using your fame and platform to discriminate. West isn’t a victim, even with his well-documented mental health issues.
West brought this on himself and invited hatred of the Jewish community. He has made similar hurtful and hateful comments before, including saying slavery for Black people was a choice.
While rejecting West’s antisemitic comments as wrong, Brown told Washburn, “Like I said, I don’t stand for any hurt, harm, or danger toward anybody, but sometimes people need unconditional love and help to get through the situation.”
Brown was trying to send a layered, nuanced message. He also didn’t want to abandon the children of Donda Academy. But such malignant and unapologetically discriminatory comments as those from West don’t leave room for nuance.
Unfortunately, they’re a black hole of hate that swallows the light from everything and everyone good associated with them.
As Brown said in his statement, after 24 hours he was able “to reflect and better understand how my previous statements lack clarity in expressing my stance against recent insensitive public remarks and actions.”
The Celtics’ torch-bearer for social activism landed in the right place expressing the right perspective because he cares. What he does, what he represents, and who he is off the court matter to him as much if not more than whether he’s an All-Star.
That’s why he has embedded himself in the Boston community, showing up at Harambee Park for the Roxbury vs. Dorchester grass-roots basketball outing and handing out free backpacks and T-shirts from his clothing line, 7uice, at a Dorchester school.
How many other players have the mayor of their city sporting their clothing line?
So Brown deserves a little slack. Just as in his evolution into a superstar on the court, there have been and will be misreads off it too. That Brown didn’t at first fully appreciate the connection between racism and antisemitism is part of his maturation process.
As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
It would behoove us to remember that. As you criticize or express frustration with Brown now, when it’s his community being targeted, you should stand up just as vociferously as you rightfully expected him to.
If you’re decrying Brown, then I hope you took some issue with Patriots owner Robert Kraft cavorting with former President Donald Trump and downplaying players skipping the White House visit following the team’s fifth Super Bowl win, even though some stated they didn’t feel welcome.
As one e-mailer wrote, “Anti-Semitism is on the march along with racism and the suppression of voting rights. I just wish Jaylen saw the connection.”
Yup. We should all see the connection.
The safe thing for Brown would be to just “stick to sports.” In today’s culture, one wrong word or statement can get you canceled. But that’s not in his DNA, thankfully. We need more athletes willing to use their platform to take a stand.
Brown is still the guy who during the pandemic drove 15 hours to his hometown of Atlanta to lead a peaceful protest for social justice in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
Every single season of his career, Brown has come back better than the year before, having sharpened some skill or expanded his hoops horizons. Such self-improvement applies off the court too.
By belatedly doing the right thing, he showed that he remains someone you can cheer for in both arenas.