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Jaylen Brown and Celtics teammates visit White House to talk criminal justice

Jaylen Brown, Malcolm Brogdon and Grant Williams visited with Justice Department officials earlier this week to discuss criminal justice reform.

Boston Celtics v Miami Heat - Game Six Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Jaylen Brown, Malcolm Brogdon and Grant Williams arrived late in the nation’s capital on Monday after travel delays, concerned they wouldn’t make a visit they prioritized alongside the following day’s game at the Wizards.

They traveled from the tarmac to the White House to take part in a criminal justice discussion with roughly fifteen Department of Justice officials. Scott Budnick, a film producer and activist, organized the meeting alongside Celtics organizational growth vice president Allison Feaster, to debate an issue long important to Brogdon.

He recently wrote about his hope to increase the age at which the justice system considers people accused of crimes as juveniles. Brown and Brogdon agreed the adjustment, which they saw as necessary in Georgia and Massachusetts which both consider 17-year-olds criminally liable as adults — would lead to easier reintegration into society.

“Children (get tried as) adults when they make mistakes as though they’re beyond redemption, and that’s something that has to change,” Brogdon said at shootaround on Tuesday. “There are a lot of kids behind bars that shouldn’t be, a lot of the time, because of the color of their skin ... raise the age in Massachusetts is something I’m really pushing for.”

“A lot of the people sitting around the table at the White House, at the DOJ, were very supportive, (and) affirmed everything me, JB and Grant were thinking, but we also, while sitting at that table, learned Congress and all these other branches of power that have to approve certain bills and certain policies before they get put in place.”

Brown — who recently spoke out against fans who don’t want athletes using their platform to promote change — saw the visit as a learning experience and mostly listened. Keisha Lance Bottoms, the former mayor of he and Brogdon’s native Atlanta, joined the conversation briefly, and Deputy Assistant Attorney General Amy Solomon helped lead the discussion.

The meeting marked a collaboration between the Celtics’ NBPA vice presidents and one of the first efforts between Brown and Brogdon as teammates, who famously led a protest in Atlanta during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. Brogdon believed that moment increased awareness toward social injustice, and while direct activism might’ve declined in the time since, he hopes promoting issues and solutions continues the conversation.

“This is a generation where we’re having more players that are interested and involved in — I don’t even call it politics — I call it injustices that are happening in the world,” he said.

Brogdon, who told CLNS Media/CelticsBlog earlier this season he doesn’t foresee playing in the NBA for two decades like LeBron James, doesn’t know if he foresees a career in politics beyond basketball. His role as NBPA could prepare him though, mentioning how he balances different constituents and their priorities and egos almost daily.

“Continue to be advocates,” Williams told CLNS Media/CelticsBlog pre-game in Washington. “Continue to use our platform for better in terms of making sure we push forward initiatives like the George Floyd Policing Act, as well as the raise the age legislation in Mass, because even in my own home state of North Carolina, they’re trying to revoke that ... these are all social issues that we need to change the laws, more recently the gun violence that happened in Nashville.”

Brown, who studied the connection between the education and criminal justice system in building his Bridge Program in Boston, saw the way descriptions of violence, crime and the solutions that tried to address them end up hurting communities more than helping them. He wants to promote reintegration methods for people after their release from prison, the raise in age legislation passed, and the initiation of short and long-term goals on issues.

Brown, for example, praised Brogdon’s efforts to increase access to clean water in east African countries. He also hopes to make fellow NBA players more comfortable speaking out and taking action on social issues. The greater numbers they organize with, the better.

Among personal challenges Brown discussed in recent interviews, fans denouncing his activism continues to strike a nerve. He mentioned it several times at Tuesday’s shootaround. Given the influence and reach they hold, he sees participating in spaces outside of basketball as a necessity.

As The Ringer described in its profile, Brown researched the relation between raised athletic expectations for Black athletes, and diminished intellectual ones. Celtics fans recently gave him a standing ovation for his 41 points against the Spurs. Brown wants to hear the same backing for his efforts on education and criminal justice.

“I think athletes have an incredible platform, regardless if people want us to use it or not, but I think we’re here to do more than just play basketball games and get yelled at by angry fans,” Brown said on Tuesday. “People should want us to do more with it than just come out and play a game for a ticket price and then go home.”

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