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Lakers hire franchise's first director of racial equity and action

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Lakers are looking for new ways to understand racism as an organization, and Karida Brown has joined them to help.

The 16-time NBA champions hired Brown this week as the Lakers’ first director of racial equity and action. Brown, an assistant professor of sociology and African American studies at UCLA, will work with the franchise in identifying ways to create change while educating staff on urgent social issues.

The Lakers joined most sports organizations last month in issuing strong statements condemning racism and bigotry after the death of George Floyd while in police custody. The Lakers, one of the world’s most visible sports franchises, have decided they can do more to further causes they care about deeply.

Brown said she was approached by Lakers chief operating officer Tim Harris, who had reached out to UCLA for guidance. Brown asked Harris if the Lakers were a “non-racist” or an “anti-racist” organization.

“I was super happy when Tim responded, ‘You know what, we hadn’t necessarily thought about it in those terms, but I can say that we are aspirationally anti-racist,”‘ Brown said. “I got really excited by that, because in that statement, there was so much that recognizes that there is this aspiration, but it’s a process to get there.”

The Lakers’ moves to take an active role in pursuing social justice are ardently supported by owner Jeanie Buss, who used her Instagram account Friday to share a photograph of a racist, hateful letter she received recently, hoping to impress the urgency of anti-racist action on her followers.

“Why don’t you look in the mirror and see your ugliness, because I refuse to,” Buss responded to the letter-writer. “I have received letters like this over the years. The advice I always got? `Ignore it.’ I did. But not anymore.”

Brown expects to work primarily with the Lakers’ employees more frequently than their players or coaches, and she participated in a group call with employees Thursday.

Several Lakers players, including LeBron James and Avery Bradley, have been strong voices in recent weeks on numerous issues relating to sports, race and the social implications of the NBA’s plan to return to action amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Brown, who has written two books about history, race and politics, is eager for the opportunity to have an influence on sports’ capacity to drive change.

“Sports was the social influencer before we had social influencers,” Brown said. “Sports organizations are a source of entertainment, inspiration, aspiration, identity, all of these kind of intangible ephemera that make us who we are. Sports is one way that we express that.

“So (for) that platform to take a stance, to take action, to demonstrate what it looks like in everyday life has the potential to have great impact in influencing others, even if it’s just making folks think, `Am I a non-racist? Or am I an anti-racist?’ That’s a very important question.”

The Lakers organization also took Friday off to observe Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the official end of slavery.