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John Wall shares fear of being pulled over by police, experiences growing up with racial discrimination

John Wall shares fear of being pulled over by police, experiences growing up with racial discrimination

As people around the country continue to protest police brutality and racial injustices against black people, athletes continue to add their powerful voices and experiences to the cause.

Wizards guard John Wall joined in the conversation, discussing the fear he continues to have about being pulled over by the police. For many black Americans, the reality of racial discrimination makes the mere thought of being pulled over more daunting than it should be. Apparently that anxiety doesn’t dissipate just because you’re a star athlete.

“If I get pulled over right now, I’m terrified,” Wall said on Thursday’s episode of The Athletic’s “Hoops, Adjacent” podcast. “To be realistic. If I’m in a dark area, or a back street, I’m not stopping. I’ll go to a high-speed chase to get to a spot where it’s a grocery store, or somewhere where there’s a lot of lights at, because that’s how terrifying it is.”

To some, it may be jarring to hear a recognizable, millionaire athlete discuss his fear of the police, but the money and acclaim don't provide a shield from racism. And for many black people, the fear is instilled at a young age, either through personal experiences or those of people with the same skin color. In the age of camera phones, more and more incidents are being recorded for the world to see.

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George Floyd was suffocated and killed by a white police officer in Minnesota who put a knee to his neck for over eight minutes. Breonna Taylor was shot at least eight times and killed in her own home by police in Louisville. Ahmaud Arbery was shot to death by a white father and son while jogging in a Georgia neighborhood.

“You’re telling me if I want to be a black kid to jog in a neighborhood, and I say, ‘Ok, I want to cut through this white neighborhood, this rich neighborhood,’ and then all of a sudden, I’m targeted to get killed?” Wall continued. “Because I don’t belong there? Those are the kind of things I grew up with, like you wouldn’t go to this side of town where you wasn’t allowed. Why? We breathe the same air.”

Wall, who grew up in Raleigh, N.C., said the constant acts of racial discrimination have been frustrating and that all people want to see is justice. 

“I feel like this has been going on for decades, been going on for so much longer than the time I’ve been on this earth,” he said. “But if we didn’t have social media or camera phones right now, we wouldn’t be able to see this act going on.”

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Wizards players react to teammates contracting coronavirus

Wizards players react to teammates contracting coronavirus

Though the percentages may be lower for young, well-conditioned athletes, coronavirus remains a real threat to NBA players and the Washington Wizards were served a reminder of that this week with the reported positive tests for Thomas Bryant and Gary Payton II.

Forward Troy Brown Jr., who is close with Bryant, said he has talked to his friend and teammate since he came down with Covid-19. He believes Bryant will be able to join the team in Orlando before too long.

"I talked to him a little bit. It's just more so day by day," Brown said. "I don't think it was anything other than just him doing normal stuff [when he contracted it]."

Guard Jerome Robinson is with the Wizards at Disney World, taking their team flight down on July 7. But he says the decision to play was not a simple one.

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Robinson felt uneasy about the risk of being around people and playing basketball during the worldwide pandemic.

"There was some thought [of not going]. For the most part, for me my concerns were just the safety of it all. It's a deadly virus and we don't have a vaccine," he explained.

"It was kind of scary being around my family and things like that. I don't want to get put in a circumstance where we all get it our I get it or things of that nature, [especially] any elder. The biggest thing is how can we be safe during this whole thing."

Robinson is 23 years old and an NBA player in tip-top shape. But he has read enough of the news to realize, though the odds are lower, the possibility remains for someone of his age and health to be affected by the virus.

"Even us, being young people, you don't want to be that one because it can happen. It's a deadly virus and it's something that we have to take seriously," he said.

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Scott Brooks, Wizards adjusting quickly to life in the NBA's bubble

Scott Brooks, Wizards adjusting quickly to life in the NBA's bubble

They began with 36 hours in quarantine, a day-and-a-half of just sitting in their hotel rooms at Disney World, waiting to get to work as the NBA aims to resume and finish the 2019-20 season.

Wizards forward Isaac Bonga talked to his friends on the phone and played XBOX. Head coach Scott Brooks FaceTimed his family. Guard Ish Smith marveled at how similar his hotel room was to the one he stayed in last summer at Disney World.

They had just arrived to Orlando, FL from Washington, D.C. for the NBA's restart. They had to wait those 36 hours and test negative for coronavirus twice before going free.

"The forced relaxation drove me crazy. It was the weirdest thing," Brooks said.

The Wizards were eventually let out of their rooms and on Thursday held their first practice at Disney World; a 5 p.m. get-together that featured real, live basketball, the type they had abstained from for weeks at their training facility due to social distancing protocol.

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They were missing a few players and not just the previously established absences of John Wall, Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans; their three best players. Thomas Bryant, Gary Payton II and Garrison Mathews were all reportedly away from the team; the first due to coronavirus and Mathews because of personal reasons.

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Still, getting out in the open floor and scrimmaging was a major step for the Wizards as they look towards July 31, their first regular season game.

"I thought the practice was outstanding. I was real concerned because we hadn't done anything live," Brooks said.

"I don't know how they did it, how the NBA was able to get it all done. Our facility here, our gym is pretty incredible. The weight room is amazing. The hotels are great. Everything is good. I have no complaints. It's just like a road trip for us."

"It just felt good to be out there," Smith said. "It was very similar to a normal practice that we would have, just coaches have gloves and masks on."

What happens on the court, the NBA hopes, should feel familiar. It's off-the-court that will require the biggest adjustment, as everyone there will be away from their families for an extended period of time and in an environment intended to stop the spread of a worldwide pandemic.

But the early returns from the Wizards were good. They are pleasantly surprised with the situation so far.

"Look, we get to play basketball. To me, it's like going away to basketball camp," Brooks said.

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