Wizards

Beal: USA Basketball leaving politics to Popovich

Wizards

In the five years since the last summer Olympics were held, much has changed in the world, in the United States and, for that matter, the lives of American athletes. As social justice and other causes have been brought to the forefront, NBA players have increasingly used their profiles to encourage change. 

For Bradley Beal, that included leading a march on Washington last summer and participating in discussions about social justice. 

The Olympics present a stage for which the world is watching and there is a long history of athletes using the event to protest or speak out on political matters. 

But as Beal explained to NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller, the plan is for Team USA to focus on winning a gold medal. They have agreed as a team to continue working for societal change in other ways and keep this particular trip about basketball.

"We've talked about that actually as a team. In all honesty, for the first time we can lay out our arms and focus on our competition and that's what we're going to do. We don't want it to get into a political protest," Beal told NBC Sports Washington.

Beal pointed out how there are some rules at the Olympics which could get in the way, like what athletes can say or wear. It's complicated and the players also feel they are already making an impact in their own communities with the initiatives they have set forth.

 

"We're going over there to win. We'll deal with everything else when we come back," Beal said.

Now, that doesn't mean it will be complete silence coming from Team USA on political matters. It just sounds like whatever is said will be much more likely to come from head coach Gregg Popovich, who has been outspoken for years on issues of social justice. 

Beal said the first team meeting held by Popovich at training camp in Las Vegas had nothing to do with basketball. He wanted to first address the elephant in the room.

"Honestly, Pop will probably do the majority of that. He's not afraid. He's expressed that, he's expressed that to me. 'Shift the blame on me, I'm going to be the one to kind of lay down what's going on.' We respect that. That was very admirable from him," Beal said. 

"Our first meeting wasn't about basketball, it was about life. It wasn't about hoops at all. It was about him respecting us and what we did as players, what we continue to do and what we continue to embody and the fact we're still trying to come out and win a gold medal regardless of what's happened and what's been going on. That spoke volumes. That spoke volumes. Pop, he's a legend and he will always be a legend. Yeah, so ask him. He'll be the one to ask about what's going on in the world."

Beal has been on the frontlines of the fight for social justice going back years, but particularly following the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis in May of 2020. Along with Mystics guard Natasha Cloud, he helped organize a march in D.C. on Juneteenth last year. They teamed up to help open Capital One Arena as a polling place and have mentioned future plans like working with local police departments to continue the conversation about police reform.

But at the Olympics, Beal is embracing the opportunity to just play basketball after a difficult year and represent his country.

"I'm just proud to be a part of it. From where we've come from a year to now, it's definitely amazing to see. Covid hit us, we had a bunch of tragedies in the world that we still deal with on the daily. But nonetheless, our main focus is bringing home the gold. That's our main focus and we're locked into that," Beal said.

See more of Chris Miller's interview with Beal Thursday on News4 at 5 and News4 at 6 PM.