Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors guard and Rockford, Ill. native, said his team hasn’t ruled out boycotting games on the NBA’s Disney campus in the wake of police shooting another Black man.
On Sunday, police officers in Kenosha, Wis. shot 29-year-old Jacob Blake several times. Seven gunshots, all of which appeared to come while Blake was facing away from officers after opening his car door, can be heard in a video of the shooting taken by a bystander that has since gone viral across social media platforms. Protesters continue to flood the streets of Kenosha and elsewhere in response to the shooting.
VanVleet opened remarks to the media Tuesday by sending thoughts to Blake and his family.
“I was pretty excited (about Toronto’s upcoming playoff matchup with the Boston Celtics),” VanVleet said to open the session, “and then we all had to watch Jacob Blake get shot yesterday, so that kind of changes the tone of things and puts things in perspective. That’s really all that’s kind of been on my mind. You know, coming down here, making the choice to play, it was supposed to not be in vain, but it’s starting to feel like everything we’re doing is just going through the motions, nothing’s really changing and here we are again with another unfortunate incident. So my thoughts today are with that man and his family.”
While Blake is reported to be alive and in stable condition, the Chicago Tribune, citing Blake’s family and attorneys, reported that a bullet severed Blake’s spinal cord, and that he may never walk again.
VanVleet spent the entirety of his availability discussing the shooting, at multiple points dismissing the team’s upcoming series with the Celtics as being far from his mind. In a moment of particular poignance, he grappled with the nature of athlete activism, and the onus that falls on Black people and entertainers to speak out on issues of injustice.
“We’re the ones with the microphones in our face, we’re the ones that always have to make a stand. But we’re the oppressed ones and the responsibility falls on us to stop being oppressed, you know what I’m saying?” he said. “At what point do we not have to speak about it anymore? Are we going to hold everybody accountable or are we just going to put the spotlight on Black people and Black athletes and Black entertainers and say what are you doing, what are you contributing to the community, what are you putting on the line?
“And then us, too, we gotta take responsibility as well. Like, what are we willing to give up? Do we actually give a f**k about what’s going on? Or is it cool to just wear Black Lives Matter on the backdrop or wear a T-shirt? What does that really mean? Is it doing anything? I don’t have the answers for you today, but I just think we’re all — I’ll speak for myself, I’m in a different place today, just emotionally speaking.”
VanVleet added that the Raptors held a team meeting Tuesday morning and that “a number of things have been discussed” when asked if the team has considered boycotting games. The Raptors’ next scheduled contest is Thursday at 5:30 p.m. CT, Game 1 of their second-round series against the Celtics. At his Tuesday media availability, Marcus Smart, a Celtic, said he’s considered boycotting, but that the team needs to discuss more.
“We knew coming here or not coming here wasn’t going to stop it,” VanVleet said. “I think ultimately, playing or not playing, putting pressure on somebody. For example, this happened in Kenosha, Wisconsin if I’m correct? Would it be nice if in a perfect world, we all said we’re not playing and the owner of the Milwaukee Bucks — you know, that’s gonna trickle down — if he steps up to the plate and puts pressure on the District Attorney’s office and state’s attorneys and governors and politicians there to make real change and get some justice.
“I know it’s not that simple, but, at the end of the day, if we’re gonna sit here and talk about making change then at some point we’re going to have to put our nuts on the line and actually put something up to lose rather than just money or visibility. I’m just over the media aspect of it, it’s sensationalized. We talk about it every day, it’s all we see, but it just feels like a big pacifier at this point, to me.”
The session wrapped with Bleacher Report’s Taylor Rooks asking simply how VanVleet was doing. His response: