Wizards

Wizards, Mystics host MLK social justice forum

Wizards

As the nation celebrates Black History Month beginning Feb. 1 and honors the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, Monumental Sports & Entertainment and executive John Thompson III put together a Dr. Martin Luther Jr. Social Justice Virtual Roundtable on Friday. 

Hosted by ESPN senior writer Jesse Washington and featuring the Wizards' Daniel Gafford, the Mystics' Natasha Cloud and Alysha Clark, and ex-Wizards player Etan Thomas, the goal was to talk about the current generation's view of their social and racial justice responsibilities in light of MLK weekend.   

Thompson III, the Wizards' VP of Player Engagement, is the son of legendary Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson. He took a moment to reflect on his own father's legacy in Washington and how the current generation of athletes is taking up his mantle in the fight for social and racial justice.

“That was dad, that wasn't John Thompson. That was just Pop,” Thompson III said in an interview with NBC Sport's Washington's Chris Miller. "So I knew nothing else. I knew how we were treated, how he was treated. I had no other point of reference. That was the norm. And so it did not seem abnormal.

"Now as you get older and as he's no longer with us and you get a chance to take a step back and a lot of those discussions when people come up to you, and a lot of understanding what he meant to a lot of people and the influence he had on people that he never had a conversation with and never saw, then you realize the importance. You're honored, proud of the lives that he has touched and the influence that he had just in doing what he thought was right.”

 

John Thompson Jr. was the Hoyas’ head coach from 1972 to 1999, winning the national championship in 1984 and reaching the NCAA title game twice more. During his time as head coach at Georgetown, Thompson was known as much for his social justice impact as he was for his on-court success.

Thompson Jr. protested an NCAA scholarship rule which he felt unfairly excluded black athletes, led 76 of 78 four-year Georgetown players to graduation and became the first black coach to win an NCAA Division I national championship. His legacy is still felt in the nation’s capital today.

In that vein, Thompson III helped put together the Dr. Martin Luther Jr. Social Justice Virtual Roundtable for Friday. The goal was to talk about the current generation's view of their social and racial justice responsibilities.  

Students at local D.C. area high schools were scheduled to watch and then participate in the forum by asking questions at the end. To Thompson III, those young people taking part in the Zoom roundtable can be leaders in their own communities. 

“You look at that [earlier] generation and you see how they are influencing the current generation," Thompson III said. "And you hope that the current leaders of today — be they athletes, be they church leaders, be they politicians, be they the guy in the barbershop or whomever — can take a look at that generation and be willing to take a risk, and be willing to stand out there, and be willing to lose things."

As Martin Luther King Day is celebrated on Monday, the D.C. community will remember not only Dr. King’s famous March on Washington in 1963, but the impact other influential black leaders have had on the area. John Thompson, Jr. was certainly one who helped make D.C. one of the American centerpieces for black pride.

“You know one thing, as [my dad] was dying, one thing that made him extremely proud was to look at the athletes of today," Thompson III said. "And as literally he's laying on his deathbed and the last couple of weeks, as he's watching the TV as we're going through the summer of George Floyd and everything that followed that, and it made him extremely proud to say athletes are speaking up."