Jameer Nelson, Will Barton share raw, personal views on athletes' protests
Teams are working to maintain honor and respect for the anthem and players' rights of expression
DENVER -- The ongoing protests regarding social unrest in response to police shootings all over the country -- protests that began with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem and have gone from there -- prompted discussion across NBA media days. We've heard from from the big names like LeBron James and Stephen Curry. But everyone, star athlete or otherwise, has a voice on a subject like this, regardless of which side you sit on.
When asked on media day for his thoughts, Nuggets point guard Jameer Nelson put his message very clearly, and in personal terms, much the way LeBron James did.
"I'm an African-American man," Nelson said Monday. "What's going on with police brutality has been going on for years. It's been going on for years before I was born, years before Rodney King, and years after. You know it's going on, you know it's happening. But you see the videos and it instills more fear into you as an African-American. You get in your car, and it doesn't even matter where you are anymore.
"It's happening all over. It's being magnified because of social media and camera phones. We have to figure something out. I have a 15-year-old son, that'll be driving, and I'm scared for him. I don't know what's going to happen. He's a kid. He may do something wrong when he's driving and I don't know what will happen.
"I do fear driving a little bit. It's human nature, I'm an African-American male. I grew up in the hood. I always had a fear of seeing a cop. Whether my car was legal, illegal, whatever, whether I had a license, whatever. We have to do something, we have to bring some type of awareness."
When asked if Nelson expected for his white teammates to support him on these issues or any protests or attitudes regarding these issues, Nelson responded that his expectation is for people to be informed on the issues.
"No matter what your skin color is, you have to have knowledge of the situation to say, 'I'm going this way or that way.' You can be a black male and not understand what's going on. You can be a white male and know exactly what's going on, and be for this cause or that cause. We're athletes, we have a voice, people want to know what we think. Whether you respect what we say or not, a lot of guys are bringing knowledge and attention to the situation. There are some white males that didn't believe this was happening before these videos came out. Because they don't go through certain things that African-Americans go through, and African-Americans don't go through certain things that white males go through."
A common refrain among critics has been that the protests don't go far enough, that there should be more of an emphasis on actions and what can be done in communities to improve situations. Nuggets forward Will Barton hosts free basketball clinics in Baltimore and operates a clothing store whose proceeds in part go towards programs for inner-city underprivileged children. Barton was emotional when asked about the protests Monday, lamenting what he feels are efforts to shift the conversation from the issues Kaepernick and other athletes are protesting and towards questions of patriotism or nationalism.
"It's sad, man," Barton told CBS Sports. "What's going on, and it's a real big issue. People are trying to push it to the side and make it about patriotism and a lot of other things. Listen, the issue is that young black men are being killed, by cops, on camera, and they're innocent. There's no way to get around that."
(Within the dozens of police shootings that have sparked controversy and protests over the past two years, in many instances police have maintained the suspects fired upon held a weapon which constituted the use of deadly force, such as in the ongoing investigation regarding Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina.)
The situation has prompted the NBA to begin discussions with the NBPA regarding potential protests. The league has a mandated rule regarding standing for the anthem, but has made it clear it plans to respect its athletes' rights to freedom of speech. Players wore "I Can't Breathe" shirts last season in warmups to protest the death of Eric Garner, and LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony spoke together on the issues at the ESPY's this year.
While Barton said that any outside influence from the team or league would not influence his decisions regarding protests or speaking out on the issues, the Nuggets' front office made it clear that they intend to both play the anthem and honor the players' right to free speech and expression.
"First of all, we live in the greatest country in the world," Nuggets President Josh Kroenke said. "That might be biased, but I do believe we live in the greatest country in the world. But clearly, there are some serious issues facing our society today. Throughout history, athletes have done a great job bringing awareness to social issues, and that's what you're seeing today. As far as the Nuggets and Pepsi Center goes, we'll continue to play the national anthem and honor our military the way we always have, but we'll also respect our athletes' constitutional rights to freedom of speech, which is a pillar of our great union of the United States of America."
Coach Michael Malone, whose family has several members in law enforcement, said the team will respect the players' rights, but also hopes to foster community efforts to make a positive impact beyond any symbolic gestures.
"Aside from the protests," Malone said, "we really want to do initiate conversation within the community. It's one thing to protest. Let's try and find that solution vocally, and get conversation going so we can get communities to work together and build those bonds of trust that aren't there right now. The anthem is one thing, and we'll respect [the players'] freedom of speech as Josh mentioned, but let's find ways to help the situation. That's a goal of ours, to facilitate conversations between communities and law enforcement to rebuild that trust we so desperately need."
The league has not released an official statement or a formal policy regarding the protests, which have taken the form of kneeling or standing with a raised fist. It did fine members of three WNBA teams in July for wearing "Black Lives Matter" T-shirts in warm-ups.
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