“It’s bigger than basketball,” Jayson Tatum said alongside teammate Jaylen Brown. After a day that saw the Kenosha County district attorney announce that no charges would be made against the police officers that shot Jacob Blake back in August and protesters storm the Capitol in Washington D.C., the two Boston stars stood side by side, united in their efforts for social change. “
Forget the outcome between the Celtics and Heat. Yesterday’s events “weighed heavy on (their) hearts” and playing in a basketball game was secondary.
Before tip off in front of a nationally televised ESPN audience, both teams walked off the floor in a players’ only meeting to discuss whether or not they’d play the game and later kneeled for the national anthem. Across the league were similar examples. In Milwaukee less than an hour away from Blake’s shooting, the Bucks and Pistons kneeled together at half court after the opening tip. The Warriors wore Black Lives Matter t-shirts during warmups. They were acts of peaceful protest and only a precursor for the message that they wanted to express after the game.
“Before we get started, we definitely want to speak to some of things going on in our society. It reminds me of something that Dr. Martin Luther King has said, that there is two split different Americas,” Brown started.
“In one America, you get killed by sleeping in your car, selling cigarettes, or playing in your backyard. In another America, you get to storm the Capitol. No tear gas, no mass arrests, none of that. I think it’s obvious. It’s 2021. I don’t think anything has changed. We want to acknowledge that and still push for the change that we’re still looking for, but as of yet, we have not seen it. We want to continue to keep conversations alive and do our part.”
There was a resignation in Brown and Tatum’s press conference that frankly, shouldn’t be heard from the voices of a 24 and 22-year-old, but yesterday’s events are just part and parcel of the last year and their entire lives.
“It’s tough because we’re not surprised with what we see on TV. It’s the world we live in,” Tatum said. “I just feel like the same energy should be kept when we see our people peacefully protesting, our people getting murdered on TV and live and videos. They’re protesting at the Capitol or rioting at the Capitol over losing an election. It’s two different things and I want the same energy on TV to be ‘they’re thugs, they’re criminals,’ the same terms that they use when they see our people protesting but losing our lives.”
And yet, both Brown and Tatum not only recognize the opportunity they have as professional athletes to speak their minds, but more importantly, embrace their shared responsibility to make a positive difference.
“It’s definitely two sides of a coin,” Brown said. “Basketball, of course, is our profession. We’re blessed to be in this position, but we’re also men. We’re fathers or members of our community, so when they hurt, we hurt. We want to continue to be a voice for the voiceless.”
“...We are role models. We are members of our community. We do have people looking up to us. We want the next generation to know where we stand. We want the next generation to hopefully be better than this one. We want to keep those conversations alive.”
Since the re-start of the NBA season back in August, the league and its players’ union have united to make social change a priority. They have committed time and money to push reform and action in getting out the vote during the 2020 elections and focusing a spotlight on racial inequalities in America. In addition to becoming leaders for their team, both Tatum and Brown are taking on leadership roles off the court.
“For me, I just think of our history, all the people that came before us that sacrificed their lives in a much bigger way so that myself and (Jaylen) have opportunities to live out our dream,” Tatum said. “That doesn’t go unnoticed and it should be talked about more. We just have to carry that on in any way we can.”