In addition to weathering the COVID-19 pandemic and gearing up for the restart of the NBA season, players and personnel across the league have taken a stand and are speaking out about racial injustice throughout the country and around the world. From police brutality to law enforcement being held accountable for their actions, the players are joining forces to support and amplify the voices of the unheard.
While Suns Head Coach Monty Williams has already spoken out through an open letter that he released last month detailing his emotions through the present times, he is continuing this message with his players in Orlando.
Williams gathered his team together for a movie night on Sunday to watch “The Uncomfortable Truth”, a documentary that depicts a white man discovering the truth about his family’s unsavory history. Loki Mulholland reveals the shocking reality of his ancestors when it comes to slavery and laying the foundation for racism in America.
“I thought it was fascinating to hear a white person tell a historical factual story that his family was involved in and how it impacted slavery and African Americans for decades,” Williams said. “I think facts remove assumptions. A lot of times we get ourselves in trouble, especially people who have a microphone, when we start to talk about things that we assume. If we can educate ourselves and educate our kids and educate guys in the NBA, it can remove assumptions. We cannot change our history, but we can learn from it.”
Following the death of George Floyd, Williams discovered the documentary on Amazon Prime and has since watched it multiple times. He felt that it was important to share this movie with his team due to the personal impact the story and message has had on his life as well on so many of his players’ lives.
Just as the title of the movie states, Williams knows the importance of learning the uncomfortable truth about this country, the people around him, the circumstances that brought us to present day and even the uncomfortable truth behind his own life.
“My paternal grandfather did an in-depth study on our family and he documented generation after generation all the way back to this particular plantation in Lenoir County, North Carolina,” Williams said. “I was so affected by it. I didn't even say anything because I was just blown away. Then I started to think about the ramifications of that particular industry. The business of slavery is the business of human misery. To think that people who were in my lineage went through such horrific conditions in a horrific situation and all the work and sacrifice that so many people did for me to be in this position. It was pretty heavy when he told me about it.”
Williams joins James Jones as the only Black Head Coach/General Manager tandem in the league. Throughout the past few months, Jones has proudly witnessed his players fight for what is right, speak their minds and join the alliance to combat social injustice.
“I think when people talk Black Lives Matter, they automatically assume that it's Black versus white,” Jones said. “It is a concern of how Blacks are treated in this country. You go back to racism, you go back to discrimination, but it’s really a signal to everyone that Black Lives Matter to us, to Blacks, to Caucasians, to Hispanics. In the past, they hadn't. In the past, we weren't equal. We didn't have rights. We have more of them now, but we have so far to go. It's just a reminder to people that this thing still matters. Treating us with equity, treating us fairly and honoring and acknowledging the hardship that we had to face to get to this point. That acknowledgement in itself is the first step towards progress and healing.”
Jones knows the importance of educating oneself during this time and took it upon himself to reach out to Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams, mother of former Sun Alan Williams, in order to gain some valuable perspective.
“It was an opportunity for me to have a direct conversation with someone in leadership in police,” Jones said. “She's a Chief and just having a chance to listen to her and her story and the challenges that she faces trying to bridge that gap was revealing for me. It told me that I don't do enough. I need to do more. I need to know more. So, I pledged to her that it would be more than just talk from me. It would be education. Educating myself, my peers, my players, my coaches about the real issues that Blacks face in regards to policing. It's real, but I understand I'm privileged in the sense that I don't live it every day and I could never speak to it the way that people who were truly impacted by it can. It was time for me to listen and embrace that.”
Jones shares a very unique perspective on the overall systemic injustice in this country as a Black man with family members that work in law enforcement.
“[My family members] try their best to uphold the ideals of society, treating everyone the right way, but I do know they've worked with those that don't believe that,” Jones said. “I do know that they are lumped into that category and it's unfortunate, but it's the reality. It was tough for me to think about. For a moment you wonder whether or not your family members are a part of the problem.”
Instead of just assuming that all officers follow the laws that they are supposed to enforce, Jones found it best to reach out to those family members and have the tough one-on-one conversations about the systemic issues.
“As a Black male or female working in the police department, have you ever witnessed it? If so, did you say anything about it? Because silence is being complicit,” Jones said. “Luckily for my family members, that wasn't the case, but they may be unique. I'm pretty sure there are so many other people who have family members that work in law enforcement that are police officers and their conversations aren't the same.”
Like so many Black children throughout the country, Jones never realized how drastically different his life was growing up from others around him. He just assumed everyone followed the same guidelines, but as he has gotten older, he is now able to reflect on these past times.
“My grandfather, who's from South Carolina, living in Miami, every time the police would come around, he'd make sure you have seatbelts buckled, sit up straight, head forward, shoot forward,” Jones said. “As a kid, you don't think anything of it. You just think that's the way. But then I also remember riding with my Caucasian or my white friends and when the police come, that wasn't the response.”
“I just talk about my experiences because those are the things that I know. As a kid, I thought that was the way things were supposed to be or that was the way things are for everyone. I think that's what we're dealing with right now is there are multiple realities for people. People live in different systems, different ecosystems and because it's not happening in the non-Black community, doesn't mean it's not happening.”
It wasn’t until high school when Jones began to truly understand the different worlds and different realities that people, including young children, of different races grow up in and experience throughout their entire lives.
“I was a smart kid growing up,” Jones said. “I was in advanced learning programs. My sophomore year, I was thrust into AP courses and I realized as the only black kid in the class, that my conversations about what my daily life was like was totally different [than] my classmates’. Some of the things I talked about like walking to jump on a public bus to get to school was a foreign concept to them. That's when I was like, 'Man, you know what? My existence as a young kid is totally different than my peers.”
Even at just 15 years old, Jones was fully aware that the color of his skin separated him from the rest of his classmates. Although they were pursuing the same goals, their respective courses to achieve them were vastly different.
The fight for racial equality in this country is centuries old, but the platform for the Black community to speak out is only continuing to grow. One of the keys to this growth has been sports and the impact that athletes have been able to make when fighting against injustice.
This isn’t the first time Jones has used his platform in order to bring awareness to racial injustice throughout the nation. Jones was a member of the Miami Heat in 2012 when unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and murdered by a neighbor in Sanford, Florida, just miles from the NBA All-Star Game that same night.
While the Heat organization released a statement on the matter, Jones and his teammates wanted to send a more impactful team-wide message. The teammates huddled together with hoodies on, their heads bowed and their hands inside their pockets, just as Martin was when he was murdered. The powerful imagery sparked others across the league and throughout the country to follow suit and visually honor the life of a young Black man who was racially judged and gunned-down for simply how he dressed.
“It was a wake-up call,” Jones said. “It was truly shocking. Being from Florida, it brought back memories of my youth. The Trayvon Martin situation garnered a lot of attention because athletes stepped forward. The youth and the kids inspired the athletes to step forward and speak out. It's always tough because these are the things that no one ever wants to talk about because they're too painful, but it's the right time.”
Jones and his teammates made a nation-wide impact due to their statement, assisting in amplifying the voices of the unheard. Fast-forward to today, Jones is now witnessing a generation taking a stand of their own, not waiting on celebrities and creating their own platform for other athletes to join.
“This has been an exercise and growth for everyone,” Jones said. “What it has exposed is that we batch ourselves and put ourselves in buckets. Am I a GM? Am I African American? Am I player? Am I an ex-player? Where do I stand, Democrat, Republican? It's not about that. I'm human. We're all human. We're all dealing with these challenges that we're facing. How do we respond in our professional lives, our personal lives? That's truly how we enact and affect change. I'm humbled by the opportunity to be the General Manager and to work closely with players and coaches who have huge voices and a tremendous platform to actually bring issues to light.”
As one of just eight Black General Managers in the NBA, Jones knows the importance of his leadership position and is encouraging his players to speak out about their opinions and take action towards what is right.
“Our place as an organization is to care about what's going on,” Jones said. “I believe the only way you can support something, is you have to care about it and actions speak louder than words. It's supporting what's right and standing strongly against what's wrong. That doesn't mean that you don't love both sides. It just means that you have to hold them accountable.”
Jones, who believes change is imperative, has been outspoken in his conversations with his players, coaches and others within the organization by encouraging them to continue fighting against racial injustice while commending them for what they’ve already done.
“I've just encouraged our guys to be authentic, to take a stand and be proud of their opinions and their backgrounds,” Jones said. “Also, to invest time in educating themselves on the issues. The thing about our group is they're a young group. They're absorbing these things just like the rest of us. They've used basketball as a medium to express their views, but also as an outlet to continue to process what's going on in this world.”
Jones, Williams, Suns players and so many throughout the NBA are not losing sight of the more-important matter occurring throughout our nation in the fight for equality. Despite the restart of the NBA season, they will continue speaking out against racism and social injustice as the NBA is allowing them a platform to be heard globally.
For a more in-depth visual look at the Suns’ stance on equality and the Black Lives Matter movement, tune-in this Sunday on Fox Sports Arizona and the Suns YouTube Channel at 7:30 p.m. as we take you through the Suns journey of the last few months heading into Orlando in this week’s episode of “Don’t Sleep on Basketball.”
Don’t Sleep on Basketball is a content series that captures the unprecedented times we’re facing through the lens of the Phoenix Suns and Mercury. Basketball sits at the intersection of culture, entertainment and sport, which puts the Suns & Mercury organization in the perfect position to serve as participant, voyeur and storyteller during this unparalleled era. The dynamic initiative is available across multiple mediums, including FOX Sports Arizona, Suns and Mercury social channels, YouTube, and editorially on Suns.com.