Listening is only the first step to bringing positive change

The NBA campus has gone quiet as players sit in and strike to demand a better response to racial justice and police brutality. (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images)
The NBA campus has gone quiet as players sit in and strike to demand a better response to racial justice and police brutality. (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic joined the Milwaukee Bucks in their sit-in of Game 5. Now our job is to listen, acknowledge and empathize with their experience.

NBA players talked about a lot of issues before they entered the campus at Disney.

They saw a world that was breaking around them, affecting their communities and their lives. The stories they were seeing of unarmed Black men and women killed by police that led to mass protests in the streets were becoming too much. They all wondered whether continuing to play would serve these important public causes or distract from them.

There was a hand-wringing debate among NBA players about whether their platform and their stage would help causes that were intensely personal to them.

Players are speaking out in larger numbers and asserting their power and influence to demand necessary societal change. They joined and led several protests following the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.

They were getting their message across. Even white coaches like Steve Clifford were ensuring that education and awareness over racial justice issues were at the forefront before games. Everyone throughout the league was involved and doing its part to use this stage for positive change.

But the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., seemed to strike a chord around the league. Another highly visible — broadcast on social media in plain sight — Black man shot in the back. It did not matter why the police were called or what directions he was given. No person deserves that indignity or that potential for death.

Following that with the murder of protestors by a white teenager carrying an assault-like rifle that police ignored and then arrested alive with no incident a day later, only furthered that anger.

These are things that should not be happening in America. But they are unfortunately all too familiar — a list of names to remember a mile-long seem to blur together, overwhelming a news cycle that already has a short attention span.

And a league that is largely filled with Black men were tired of it.

The strike spurred by the Milwaukee Bucks’ sit-in during their scheduled Game 5 against the Orlando Magic was a sign the players in this league are not satisfied with the progress the nation is making. Their words are alone are not working.

What kind of action will they demand? What will this spur?

Those are fair questions. Those were questions that were asked certainly by people confused what was going on and sometimes by disingenuous actors trying to get players to “shut up and play.”

It is OK not to have the answers. And, as a white man (check my photo), it is not for me to tell them what comes next or demand what comes next. For now, my role is to sit here and listen.

The first step for all of us is to listen to the experiences players are sharing and ask them what we can do to help when they are ready to act.

It is hard not to be moved by LA Clippers Doc Rivers’ statement from a few days ago. It is easy to hear the pain and frustration. That pain and frustration are real:

You could feel the frustration and anger in Chris Webber’s voice as he describes how marginalized some of these communities can be. And how this message is fighting for them and trying to raise awareness of the conditions they live in:

These are only two of the powerful stories told throughout the league of an all too familiar feeling. Despite being millionaires and somewhat removed from regular society, they are still Black men in America.

They watched as Bucks forward Sterling Brown was tased and beaten for parking illegally while trying to go into a convenience store. They watched as Thabo Sefolosha was violently taken to the ground while leaving a nightclub as police targeted him for some disturbance.

Those are only the major incidents in the last few years involving NBA players and the police. Proof that despite their status in America, they remain targets in society for the color of their skin.

Players are coming forward and sharing their stories if you care to listen. They can be mini-aggressions. But almost every player has a story of being targeted by police in some fashion, detained and questioned only because being Black raises suspicion.

Players like former Magic forward Maurice Harkless:

Or even a player like Jameer Nelson, sharing an experience with police officers he had while he was in Central Florida:

There are too many stories that feel this similar for it to be a coincidence. This is a shared experience by Black men and women across the country. And it is plainly unacceptable.

NBA players are leaders in our community.

For a still-segregated society, NBA players are likely the first exposure and most visible expression of Black men and culture to loads of people (myself included). They are exemplars and they have a huge platform to shine a light on these issues.

It is easy in sports, with its uncomfortable viewing of players as trade assets or as pieces to move on a chessboard, to forget these are human beings who go home at the end of the night.

They too want to see a better world for themselves and their children. They too go through the same issues and anxieties as everyone else.

The current group of NBA players have chosen to use their platform to amplify their voices. That was a condition of their return. But the message still needs to sink in.

"“It seems like nothing is really working to get our voices heard,” former Magic forward Tobias Harris wrote for The Players Tribune in June during the height of protests over George Floyd’s murder. “We have normalized this to the point where it’s common to see videos of people on social media being bashed by officers. For people who want to make this about anything but race, it’s like, Dang, do y’all really not understand what’s going on here? Keep it real. Admit something’s wrong in this country, admit that this is about race, and let’s build a way forward.”"

If you drew anything from this post, do not let it be anything that I wrote. It should be in the videos, quotes and tweets attached here. I cannot speak for them or share their experience. I cannot understand the feelings of what they are going through or the world they are experiencing.

I can only amplify and point to those words with my platform.

What matters now is to listen to these voices and experiences. What matters now is to take in what they have said and accept their feelings and reality.

We need to ask ourselves why we would let any Americans feel the way they have felt and why this experience seems so consistent across a large swath of the American public.

The first step is listening. The next step is following the guidance of these leaders to affect the change necessary to make our society better and shed these frustrations.

NBA leaders are huddling Thursday to figure out what comes next after the sit-in and strike. They have everyone’s attention.

Next. Orlando Magic, NBA players deserve our gratitude. dark

All we have to do is listen and follow when they map out what comes next. And maybe listen a bit more closer to home.