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Racism in the NBA

“Get on your knees like you’re used to,” a Utah Jazz fan said to Oklahoma City Thunder player Russell Westbrook March 11.

Racist comments such as the one above flow from the mouths of fans at sporting events, proving racism still exists, even in the professional athletic realm, and specifically in the NBA.

Racism persists in a league where 75% of players in the NBA are black. Because of this, Kyle Korver, NBA veteran and player for the Utah Jazz, noticed the outright prejudice against players in the NBA.

Korver voiced his personal feelings, thoughts and discomforts with the current existence and persistence of racism within the world and the basketball community.

In a personal piece titled “Privileged,” Korver courageously admitted his guilt in responses to past incidences of racial injustice and expressed bold statements of present, personal change. Korver, in the beginning of the piece, discusses the night his teammate Thabo Sefolosha was arrested in 2015.

The night before a game in New York City, Sefolosha spent a night in jail and suffered a career-ending leg injury from the police during the arrest. Regretfully, Korver admits and openly cringes at his first thought when he heard of Sefolosha’s arrest: “What was Thabo doing out at a club on a back-to-back?”

Korver said the thought was “pure reflex.” A few months after the arrest, a jury found Sefolosha not guilty on all charges. Yet, Korver still felt discomfort at how easily the story was dismissed.

When Korver experienced an interaction between a fan and Westbrook during a game in Utah, the unsettling thoughts resurfaced, and after a team meeting with the executives of the Jazz, Korver could no longer keep silent.

In speaking on how to respond to these issues, Korver mentions how “privileged” he is and how this affects his steps toward transformation.

“What I’m realizing is, no matter how passionately I commit to being an ally, and no matter how unwavering my support is for NBA and WNBA players of color, I’m still in this conversation from the privileged perspective of opting into it,” Korver said.“Which of course means that on the flip side, I could just as easily opt out of it. Every day, I’m given that choice—I’m granted that privilege—based on the color of my skin.”

I understand Kyle Korver.

I grew up in Somerville, TN. I graduated from Fayette Ware Comprehensive High School. My graduating class of 180 students was approximately 85% black. I was the only white person on the basketball team.

I was Kyle Korver (with less money and notoriety).

While I stood as a minority in my school, I was still privileged.

All day, I can sit and say, “I went to a black high school. I do not hold any prejudices.” However, I still have a choice.

No police officer looks at me with fear. No one yells taunts at me on the field or court. No matter how much I voice my support, I could just as easily fade into the crowd.

I think Korver poses a thought-provoking question: “How can I—as a white man, part of this systemic problem—become part of the solution when it comes to racism in my workplace? In my community? In this country?”

How do I, as a white woman, become part of the solution? Korver speaks of several answers he resonates with. In the spirit of Korver, I would like to voice my own answers and realizations.

  1. Recognize you are a part of the problem. No amount of “black friends” can rectify this realization.
  2. Have a conversation. Silence creates complacency, not change.
  3. Educate yourself by listening to complex dialogues.
  4. Put yourself in uncomfortable situations.
  5. Speak out for topics you feel passionate about.
  6. Hold others accountable and allow others to hold you accountable.

Am I a part of the problem? Yes. Do I recognize this? Yes.

However, it also must be reiterated. You cannot be silent in the world we live in now. Silence equals agreement. Speak out. Take action. Stop living behind an ignorant lens of complacency and support those who are marginalized.

We also must recognize the topic of racism can never be overemphasized. Have you ever heard a peer, classmate or coworker say they are tired of everyone always talking about racial injustice?

I have.

And, therein lies the problem.

I think Westbrook is tired of racist comments. I think young black men are tired of being feared by police.

This stuff matters—on the NBA court, in the world and in the community of Oklahoma Christian University.

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