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Boston Celtics forward Jaylen Brown detailed his experience with the cross-section of racism and sports in a wide-ranging interview with The Guardian, and among his conclusions was that President Donald Trump, “unfit to lead,” “has made it more acceptable for racists to speak their minds.”
“Racism definitely still exists in the South,” Brown told The Guardian. “I’ve experienced it through basketball. I’ve had people call me the n-word. I’ve had people come to basketball games dressed in monkey suits with a jersey on. I’ve had people paint their face black at my games. I’ve had people throw bananas in the stands.
“Racism definitely exists across America today. Of course it’s changed a lot — and my opportunities are far greater than they would have been 50 years ago. So some people think racism has dissipated or no longer exists. But it’s hidden in more strategic places. You have less people coming to your face and telling you certain things. But Trump has made it a lot more acceptable for racists to speak their minds.”
Brown, a Georgia native who spent a year at the University of California at Berkeley before being selected No. 3 overall in the 2016 NBA Draft, explained that it is there that he learned of the “subtle but aggressive” racism in the American education system. He penned a dissertation on a society he believes is structured to ensure certain people are set up for success and others for failure, and he expressed thanks that basketball offered him a way to overcome the obstacles in front of him.
“Even though I’ve ended up in a great place, who is to say where I would’ve been without basketball?” he added. “It makes me feel for my friends. And my little brothers or cousins have no idea how their social mobility is being shaped. I wish more and more that I can explain it to them. Just because I’m the outlier in my neighborhood who managed to avoid the barriers set up to keep the privileged in privilege, and the poor still poor, why should I forget about the people who didn’t have the same chance as me?”
Brown credited former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick for sacrificing his football career in support of social justice. He’s not surprised that there’s been an effort by the NFL, as he said, “to blackball him out of the league.” And he raised an interesting point about the role of sports in our culture — an escape from reality for both those who live it and those who don’t want to face it.
“That’s the reality because sports is a mechanism of control,” said Brown. “If people didn’t have sports they would be a lot more disappointed with their role in society. There would be a lot more anger or stress about the injustice of poverty and hunger. Sports is a way to channel our energy into something positive. Without sports who knows what half of these kids would be doing?
“We’re having some of the same problems we had 50 years ago. Some things have changed a lot but other factors are deeply embedded in our society. It takes protests like Kaepernick’s to make people uncomfortable and aware of these hidden injustices. People are now a lot more aware, engaged and united in our culture. It takes a special person like Kaepernick to force these changes — because often reporters and fans say: ‘If you’re an athlete I don’t want you to say anything. You should be happy you’re making x amount of money playing sport. You should be saluting America instead of critiquing it.’ That’s our society.”
Brown circled that back to Trump. The 21-year-old considered the president’s demand of an apology from LaVar Ball after his son LiAngelo was arrested for shoplifting in China further evidence that Trump’s priorities are out of whack — that, perhaps, (my words, not his) Trump’s “ungrateful fool” jab at LaVar was one more example of legislators trying to keep the existing societal structure in place.
“I just think Trump’s character and some of his values makes him unfit to lead,” said Brown. “For someone like him to be president, and in charge of our troops? It’s scary to be honest.”
Surely, there will be those who read Brown’s comments about the president and only reinforce his point about people lending credence to legacy children over one-and-done athletes, just because.
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