Jaylen Brown made a 15-hour drive to his native Georgia and, with a Celtics cap on his head and megaphone in his hand, led a peaceful protest Saturday in Atlanta.
Fresh off his own 15-hour drive back to Boston, Enes Kanter joined protesters outside the Massachusetts State House on Sunday and, in his No. 11 Celtics gameday jersey, told a crowd that, “change cannot wait.”
Those were two powerful images. Two basketball players using their platform in hopes of combating racial injustice in a peaceful, positive way.
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What made these individual moments even more powerful was having the support of the Celtics organization behind them. As teammates Marcus Smart and Vincent Poirier joined Boston protesters on Sunday night, the Celtics released a statement noting, “We stand with our players, employees, partners, and fans in being committed to championing the change we need.”
As much as the Celtics organization is regarded for its winning tradition, being at the forefront of social change has likewise been a hallmark for the team and its players. This past weekend conjured memories of Bill Russell at the 1963 March on Washington fighting for civil rights.
In a time when many need strong, non-divisive voices from those in leadership positions, Celtics players — and the organization as a whole — answered the initial call.
Coach Brad Stevens explained the team’s approach in 2017 when Celtics players were pelted with questions in the aftermath of Colin Kaepernick kneeling for the national anthem.
"We talk about trying to use our platform to have positive discussion to talk about things like uniting,” said Stevens. “We talk all the time about, leaders unite and inspire people and misleaders divide. So, ultimately, if we can be a team that uses that in a positive way, if we can be individuals that use that in a positive way, we can create a good message that unifies, you’re doing your small part with the platform you’re given.”
The “Shut Up and Dribble” suggestion was always preposterous. NBA players have a stage to positively influence the millions that watch their game and it should be embraced when they use it in a positive manner.
This writer's two young daughters are struggling to understand the senseless death of George Floyd and the emotions that have spilled out in the aftermath. Being able to show them images of Celtics players, something they can connect to, trying to bring people together peacefully and use a horrendous situation to spur positive change makes those conversations a little easier.
We need more athletes to use their stage and amplify their voice. We need more sports teams to stand behind their players when they do such.
We need more Jaylen Browns and Enes Kanters.