Hawks Players Open Up About Protests, Current State of the Country
by Cassidy Allen Chubb (@cassidymilan)
Nearly four months ago, a single tweet with just six words sent the sports world into a frenzy. When ESPN reporter Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted “The NBA has suspended the season,” it didn’t seem real. Feelings of shock, confusion, sadness and utter disbelief were felt throughout State Farm Arena by players, fans and the media that night. How could the NBA be suspended?
But as the weeks and months went by, it became a reality that everyone had to accept. COVID-19 forced everyone across the world to quarantine in their homes and it wasn’t just going to go away in a few weeks. Players often reminisced on the season by posting game photos and highlights to social media expressing how much they missed it. Basketball was on hold, but it was still so present in players and fans’ minds.
It wasn’t until a Black man’s murder was captured on video that basketball wasn’t the most talked about subject in the sports world. For the first time since March 11, the conversation of when the season would return was no longer important.
His name was George Floyd. The video of a police officer with his knee on Floyd’s neck lasted a grueling eight minutes and forty-six seconds. It spread like wildfire on social media and the news.
This wasn’t new, though. Floyd’s name just became the latest Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown. Another Black man losing his life at the hands of the police-- all while being captured on video.
But this time was different. There were no sports to distract us. There were no concerts. There was nothing but this pandemic confining us to our homes. So people didn’t really have a choice. You had to see the video, you had to hear him crying out for his mom. You had to read the headlines that said “I can’t breathe” were his last words. No basketball game was going to save people from seeing the pain Black people have endured for hundreds of years.
In the past, every time there has been a new hashtag with another Black person’s name, there’s outrage, but only for a certain amount of time. People eventually go back to their lives, their jobs, and back to sporting events or concerts until the next hashtag surfaces. It’s an exhausting cycle with little to no change, but with Floyd’s death, people demanded change.
Protests have been going strong for thirty-plus days and counting. People are angry, tired and millions are without jobs. When you have an astronomical number of people who are jobless and fed up with police brutality and systemic racism, it’s a recipe for the streets across the world to constantly be flooded with protestors who want their voices heard. Protestors who are seeking justice for not only Floyd, but Breonna Taylor, Ahmuad Arbery, Rayshard Brooks and the countless other Black lives that have been lost.
From the moment Head Coach Lloyd Pierce arrived in Atlanta, he’s been vocal about educating and exposing his players to Atlanta’s rich civil rights history. Most recently in January, Pierce took the team on a field trip to the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park exploring Dr. King’s childhood home, Ebenezer Baptist Church and the museum at the King Center.
Hawks players went from playing in a historically Black city at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement to marching together on those same streets on June 14. A city where the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was formed, which fought for African Americans’ civil rights and combatted segregation.
It was only 55 years ago that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the 54-mile march from Montgomery to Selma to protest the killing of civil rights activist Jimmie Lee Jackson. The only difference between the Selma to Montgomery March and the march that Hawks players participated in, is the year that it happened. The cry is the same.
Since Floyd’s death, Hawks players have spoken out and made their stance clear on the racial injustices happening around the country. With a league that’s nearly 80 percent Black, Floyd’s death is something that wasn’t going to be ignored.
Q: What are your thoughts on what's going on right now in the world?
Small Forward, De'Andre Hunter:
I think the protests are the right way to go. It has been so long, and African Americans have had to deal with social injustice and the inequalities of the system for so long. We try to do it peacefully, and at times we tried to do it violently…and nothing. There has been no significant outcome or no significant betterment of the system for us.
Me personally, I didn't agree with the rioting and the looting and things like that, but people have to express their emotions. When people get talked about or the right outcome doesn't come from doing it positively and peacefully, then you have to resort to something else.
I feel like as a community, African Americans just want to be heard. They just want their voice heard and their communities heard. Just being able to do that, and possibly, but who knows if it will change anything?
Just being able to voice our opinions and voice the inequalities that we have had to face for so long. I just felt like we were tired of it. The events that have happened have increased it. It doesn’t seem like it is going to stop anytime soon.
So, the protests, I hope they keep going. I hope people go and vote. I just hope we keep making these steps and hopefully then that will lead to change.
Power Forward, John Collins:
Growing up as a young Black man, you know most stereotypes of “Black people are afraid of cops,” but growing up as a kid I felt like I always looked up to the police. Because on a military base, they’re given an extra level of power and security.
Military police, I feel like are one in a sense. So I always looked at them in a different light. As my mother retired and we moved and I also got older and became a young Black man, I started to experience some different things which changed my perspectives on both sides of what people are saying.
I completely agree with the protests. You have to stand up for yourself at some point. I feel like we’ve been making our voices heard. For as long as American history has been written, Black people have always been oppressed and always been trying to speak out for their voice. So I’m always for Black empowerment and I’m definitely with them.
Point Guard, Trae Young:
For me, this is a very important time. Not only for me, but in this world and what’s going on right now it’s a crazy time. I thought it was important for me to go out (protest) and show my face. I think it’s a responsibility for me to speak up especially through a time like this.
I just felt it was a big day for me to do that (protest). And talking about my sister, she’s heavily involved in everything going on. She’s very educated on what’s going on and everything. I was just proud to be her big brother and see her be vocal about how she really feels.
Shooting Guard, Cam Reddish:
It’s a crazy world we live in. It’s been a scary past couple of weeks. We’ve all had a chance to talk to coach and with each other through the Zoom calls. Coach calls all the time and checks on us to make sure everybody is ok. (He) makes sure everyone’s doing alright, getting through this tough time, telling us we’re all in this together. (He’s) trying to make sure everyone knows it’s going to be ok. It’s just kind of a crazy situation.
Q: You tweeted an article with an interview you did and talked about experiencing racism as a teenager. How were you able to deal with that?
Center, Clint Capela:
I definitely went through real racism over there (Europe) growing up. What’s been happening in the U.S. with George Floyd really had so much power that even in my country (Switzerland), it impacted a lot of people. And it allowed me to have a voice about it over there and I think that was a huge thing. That’s been a subject that’s never been easy to talk about over there.
Q: Is white privilege something you’ve always known about or is this something you’re just now acknowledging?
Shooting Guard, Kevin Huerter:
I have acknowledged it. It’s something that I studied in college. (I) took an African American studies class at Maryland. To be honest, sports has been very beneficial for me just because some of my best friends have been Black since I’ve been six, seven years old playing AAU. I felt that not always feeling the same as them, but never seeing a color barrier.
The same problems keep happening. This isn’t the first time people have protested in the last ten years and something like this has happened. So it’s not the first time I’ve realized this. But it was great for me to get out there for the first time and truly show my support. And I think this time around…hopefully a lot of things will change. And that’s why we’re there, is to make a lot of changes. Hopefully we don’t have to keep doing this much longer.
Q: What was it like for you to watch Trae take the initiative to participate in protests and use his platform?
Head Coach Lloyd Pierce:
It’s growth. Its something we’re seeing firsthand. This is something that he did in his hometown with his sister. And it’s just him expressing what he felt and felt like he had an opportunity to connect people in his city about what’s going on in our world. As a very young man, I think that was extremely impressive to see him get outside his comfort zone and to do something he’s not used to doing. We talked about that and it was good for him.
Q: Growing up as a Black man, did your parents have a conversation with you about racism and the police?
Shooting Guard, Cam Reddish:
I’ve known about it for a long time. My parents have educated me about stuff like this since I was really, really young. I’ve been in situations…I’ve experienced stuff like that. My parents did a good job of educating me when I was a kid.
Q: Why do u think athletes aren’t just sticking to sports and speaking out?
Point Guard, Trae Young:
I know I’m not just a basketball player. I’m a role model, I’m bigger than what I just do and play basketball. I know when it’s times like this I need to speak up and speak up for what’s right.
Q: What was your experience like at the protest? What motivated you to go?
Shooting Guard, Kevin Huerter:
It was great. You know, really eye opening for me. That was honestly the first time I've ever been to anything like that. And I guess that also speaks to a lot of the white privilege that I have. And really our message, just as the Hawks is we wanted to show we’re united with this and we're there for the city.
We're going to try to work with other sports teams and try to have a united stance. And just know that nationally the message has always been “this is going to take everybody, not just the Black community.” And so that was kind of our message. My message is being there for everybody…showing my support.
Q: You made a post on Instagram that said Black Lives Matter. Is it difficult for you as an athlete in the spotlight to know what to say that won’t be controversial? How do you come to that decision?
Power Forward, John Collins:
It’s definitely something that’s been on my mind and hard to put in words. It wasn’t something I just wrote out. It’s something I started typing and retyping a bunch of times just because I wanted to make sure my message and what I said was clear and authentic and meant true. So when I put that out there, it could ring home. Because I feel like at times, there’s a lot of public figures, whether intentional or unintentional, (that) misuse their platforms. So I felt it was wise of me to say something that meant something.