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Jaylen Brown didn’t go far enough with his rebuke of Ye and Donda Sports

In an exclusive with The Boston Globe, Brown broadly denounced “hurt, harm, or danger” and missed an opportunity to be definitive.

Boston Celtics v Milwaukee Bucks Photo by Ryan Stetz/NBAE via Getty Images

UPDATE: About three and half hours after CelticsBlog published this column, Jaylen Brown issued a second statement, apologizing for lack of clarity, formally ending his relationship with Donda Sports, and taking a stance against “antisemitism, hate speech, misrepresentation, and oppressive rhetoric of any kind.”

Here’s the statement, reprinted in full from Brown’s announce via Twitter.

In the past 24 hours, I’ve been able to reflect and better understand how my previous statement lack clarity in expressing my stance against recent insensitive public remarks and actions. For that, I apologize. And in this, I seek to be as clear as possible. I have always, and will always, continue to stand strongly against any antisemitism, hate speech, misrepresentation, and oppressive rhetoric of any kind.

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. And, for that reason, I am terminating my association with Donda Sports.

I do seek to continue providing mentorship, love, and support to the incredible children, faculty, and young athletes with whom I’ve been grateful to form bonds and relationships with during my time with Donda Academy.

Jaylen Brown seems to have mastered the art of saying everything and nothing.

Too bad. He may have just missed an opportunity to say something powerful.

In an exclusive with The Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn on Monday, Brown addressed his relationship with Donda Sports, the marketing agency founded by Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West. Ye, who is never far from the top of the collective American pop cultural mind, has been back in the news, most recently for blatantly antisemitic commentary. Creative Artists Agency (CAA), Ye’s own representation, formally dropped the rapper and fashion designer on Monday. Adidas, who have partnered with Ye to produce the YEEZY sneaker line, ended their agreement Tuesday morning.

That same tension now builds for other well-known people who have engaged Ye in creative and business endeavors. And so, Brown spoke up. Sort of.

From the Globe:

“First, I don’t condone any hurt, harm, or danger toward any group of people or individuals whatsoever,” said Brown, who along with Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald signed with Donda Sports in May. “I’ve been a member of my community, trying to uplift my community, and I’m going to continue to do that.”

The issue isn’t what Brown said, though. It’s what he didn’t say.

Despite lengthy remarks about his investment in Donda because of the organization’s mission, values, and the other people working there, the Celtics star failed to directly denounce the content of Ye’s hateful remarks. (Jacob Bogage and Jaclyn’s Peiser’s report in the Washington Post has a good summary of those remarks, if that’s what you’re looking for.)

There are plenty of ways Brown could’ve sidestepped ending his business arrangement while still addressing the woefully misinformed and, frankly, harmful nature of Ye’s comments. He might’ve said, “I don’t condone antisemitism and I am working to address my concerns with Donda as an organization.” He might’ve added, “I know Ye has been struggling publicly, and instead of ostracizing him, I’m taking this opportunity as a leader in my community to call him in and come to terms with the damage he’s been doing.”

Instead, Brown said this:

“A lot of time goes into creating an entity or organization,” he said. “The reason why I signed with Donda Sports, it represented education, it represented activism, disruption, it represented single-parent households, and a lot more people are involved in something like that. A lot of people that I work with, work with their families, build love and respect for, spending time in the summer. A lot of people involved. That’s what the organization from my vantage point from Donda Sports represented.

I think it continues to represent that and it’s a sensitive topic for a lot of people. But a lot of stuff you see me doing in the community and you’ve already seen me doing in the community is a direct translation from what that organization has stood for.”

Okay. Sure. What about the antisemitism?

As disgusting as Ye’s remarks have been, there’s absolutely something to the idea of responding to hate with love, patience, and education. Brown may have even missed an opportunity to grow. Why not make a clear definitive statement calling the troubled icon back into the fold and also calling on Donda itself to take action?

Brown has shown too much poise, too much commitment to education and community, for me to believe that he just handwaved Ye’s behavior. For someone who’s taken such care to meet and overcome challenges—both on the court and off it—it’s a glaring rhetorical obfuscation, one that’s more typical of flip-flopping politicians unwilling to anger voting blocs and campaign donors.

“I don’t agree with everything that everybody does,” Brown told the Globe. “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 them through the situation.”

There’s a time and a place to be purposefully vague, like when a situation is still developing and the facts aren’t clear. But is that now? When a global figure is exhibiting a concerning patterned behavior, getting dropped by his representation, having his appearances literally canceled, and getting his posts banned—again—by social media platforms?

Bogage and Peiser’s coverage in the Post includes a strong and effective quote from Ari Emanuel, chief executive of the Endeavor entertainment and media agency:

“Those who continue to do business with West are giving his misguided hate an audience,” Ari Emanuel wrote. “There should be no tolerance anywhere for West’s antisemitism. This is a moment in history where the stakes are high and being open about our values, and living them, is essential. Silence and inaction are not an option.”

Jaylen Brown is right that unconditional love can be a more effective tool than banishment or cancellation. But holding people in power accountable with your platform—something Brown has shown, with his actions, that he wants to do—doesn’t look like ambiguous and generic statements about not hating anyone.

Brown wants to be a leader. He’s made that clear. And good leaders—whether they’re NBA All-Stars gunning for an eighteenth championship, aspiring nonprofit founders, or regular old managers at regular old jobs—know that calling their fellow community members in can’t happen without directly addressing the harm they’re causing. How can Brown inspire growth and change in others if he doesn’t lead by example?

Of course, people make mistakes. And since there’s no indication that Ye feels any bit remorseful about his behavior, Jaylen Brown still has an opportunity to do something powerful. He could admit he made a mistake and directly call on Ye, and on Donda, to be better.

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