BOSTON — Of the thousands who walked the streets of Boston protesting the death of George Floyd on Sunday, all you could see clearly were their eyes just above their mask-covered noses and mouths.
The look was appropriate, because there is no denying the awakening that has engulfed this country since the death of Floyd last week.
Like most of us, Marcus Smart never knew Floyd until his death became a national rallying cry for systemic change.
But it wasn’t the first time Smart had seen or heard of an African-American man being killed at the hands of a law enforcement official.
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But this was different; so different that it moved Smart and so many others in the NBA and across the country in ways we have not seen before.
Which is why Smart was among the thousands of protestors walking the streets of Boston early Sunday evening, seeking to continue to raise awareness to the litany of societal issues that have been magnified in many respects following Floyd’s death.
“We wanted to come out here and let our voices be heard,” Smart told NBC Sports Boston. “We stand for the truth; we stand for justice and won’t stop until we get justice and that’s what this is about.”
NBA players champion causes all the time.
But this is different; different because of the personal tone that it has taken with a league that has an overwhelming majority of African-American players.
It also resonates on a larger scale because of the NBA season being suspended, so the usual getaway from the ills of society for players is not there.
Smart’s participation in Sunday’s protest came 24 hours after fellow Celtic Jaylen Brown led a similar protest near Atlanta which is not too far from his Marietta, Ga. hometown.
While a number of athletes across the sports spectrum have been using their voice and platform to help generate more open dialogues about racism, police brutality and various societal issues that have stemmed from Floyd’s death, NBA players have arguably been the professional league whose players have been the most outspoken.
Whether it’s a LeBron James tweet or a Karl-Anthony Towns video, the NBA has arguably the strongest voice of any professional league on this topic.
“For us, we see it (racism) just as much as anybody,” Smart said. “We go through prejudice on a daily basis just as anybody. Our faces are shown more so people know us more.
We have a platform God has given us to go out here and spread the word and not be silent. For us, some of us have lost someone in that situation or know someone who lost someone in that situation. So in the NBA, especially for us, we’re a brotherhood.
And while we’ve seen in the past some professional players be hesitant to speak out on racism and police brutality for fear of reprisal from the teams they play for or fans, Smart has been pleased with the support he and his teammates have received from the Boston Celtics organization.
Late Sunday night, the Celtics released the following statement:
Like many others across the country, the heartbreaking and senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, along with other recent events, have left the entire Celtics organization struggling with grief and anger.
During a time in which the phrase “new normal” has often been used as our nation has struggled with the devastation of a pandemic, we imagine and hope for a “new normal” where every citizen is afforded the same rights, has the same opportunities, receives the same treatment, and can peacefully enjoy every freedom promised to all of us.
The Boston Celtics have always stood for the ideals of equality, understanding, and respect. We can’t simply hope and pray for these things, we need to lead through our actions. We stand with our players, employees, partners, and fans in being committed to championing the change we need. We need to be honest about confronting racism and abuse of power. We can and must demand equality for everyone. We can and will respond by committing to being part of the solution.
Said Smart, “For the Celtics to take a stand and support what we do, it shows how much this organization cares about its players and cares about the right thing to do.”
Indeed, the work of the Celtics, Smart and his teammates and other NBA players is important on this matter.
No one disputes that or downplays its value.
But the larger, more cancerous disease that’s triggering all this is racism.
And the only way any meaningful progress will be made along those lines, is if folks like Smart and the rest of the NBA remain woke to the moment, seize it, and make the kind of transformative change that their voice and platform will allow to happen.