When the Milwaukee Bucks decided not to play Game 5 of their first-round playoff series against the Orlando Magic in the NBA bubble in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, it set off a chain reaction around the league. For three days games were halted, and the players met multiple times to decide the next steps before taking the floor again. The National Basketball Players Association came to an agreement with the NBA to enact several initiatives aimed at bringing about racial equality in the country.
One of those initiatives is called Commit to C.A.R.E. (Care About Racial Equality) Now. In partnership with Dove Men+Care and the NBPA, the initiative focuses on changing how Black men and boys are depicted in culture and media, encouraging safe and fair voting and advocating for public safety by supporting the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which aims to hold police accountable, end racial profiling and change the culture of law enforcement among other things. Dove Men+Care is also investing $250,000 in NBA player-led initiatives that support Black youth.
Magic forward Aaron Gordon has partnered with the Commit to C.A.R.E. Now initiative, as his latest commitment to social justice. Gordon has been outspoken about racial equality over the past few months, and used his platform while down in the NBA bubble to seek justice for Breonna Taylor and advocate for the end of police brutality.
In August 2019, with help from his mother who is a computer scientist, Gordon launched a coding program for underserved youth called CodeOrlando. Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he's taken it upon himself to help Black-owned restaurants by partnering with popular food delivery service Door Dash to help keep Black restaurants afloat. Now, with this latest initiative, he's hoping to continue shining a light on racial inequality in America.
Gordon spoke to CBS Sports about his latest partnership, racism in America and the Bucks' decision to protest Game 5 during their playoff series against the Magic.
(The following Q&A has been lightly edited for clarity and flow.)
CBS Sports: First off, how's the hamstring doing? I know you strained it during the NBA restart and it limited your ability to play while the Magic were down there.
Aaron Gordon: It's almost better. I didn't understand how long these lingered, but it's getting there. I'll be ready when we start back.
CBS: Tell us a little about how this Dove Men+Care initiative came about for you.
Gordon: It was put together by the NBPA and Dove Men+Care, and it's an amazing platform and opportunity to bring light to some of the social injustices and discrepancies between White America and the Black community in America. I thought it was a really great move on both sides, and I'm glad that they offered me the opportunity.
CBS: When I was reading about this initiative, it talks about creating better images of Black men in the media and in culture, and I think that also extends to the role models Black boys have growing up. I feel like they often aren't given too many role models or professions they can aspire to be outside of professional athletes or rappers, and I know that's something that's really important to you with your CodeOrlando camp that you've done with your mom, who happens to be a computer scientist.
Gordon: Oh I agree, and as a Black kid growing up you wanted to be a ballplayer or a rapper and that was really it. You didn't see many doctors or lawyers or, in this case, computer scientists. I knew that my mom created a beautiful life for herself and her family through S.T.E.M., and if it worked for her it could work for anybody. She preached that to me, and now we're putting it into practice. I think a lot of the jobs in America are going to be remote and digitalized, especially with the lack of social interaction. I also think that a lot of the jobs in America haven't been created yet, so this isn't just a job, we're offering these kids a career path and I think that's extremely important.
CBS: You've been pretty vocal about social justice issues the past few months. Where did the desire come from to get involved in these important conversations and fight for these issues?
Gordon: It just came from being a Black man and from being awake in America. I've always felt this underlying, deep-rooted blood-soaked American society and I never liked it or how it felt. I'd walk into a room, and having that second consciousness of everybody looking at me because I look different, because I'm taller or because of my hair, it's just not a good feeling. For people in 2020 to continue to have prejudices on the context of exterior look, it's just ignorant, it really is. It's unimportant for people to be judged on by their outside appearance and what's encaging their spirit. I think it just comes down to perpetuating insecurities of human nature to judge something that you don't know. But I think as long as you take the time to get to know somebody, then those fears start to dissipate and, in America, it's just not happening quick enough. Just the understanding of what it means to empathize with another human being.
CBS: Since the restart, the NBA has been more vocal on racism and is planning on creating more initiatives like this one going forward. Given what the league has done so far and is planning to do down the line, do you think people are starting to listen now?
Gordon: I hope so. That's all you can do is hope and continue to spread the word. Continue to understand the strife and struggle and the terror that it brings to see police gun down Black men unnecessarily.
CBS: Shifting gears a bit, when the Milwaukee Bucks initially wanted to forfeit Game 5 of the playoff series against you guys, what was your team's reaction and what ultimately made your team decide to join in on the protest?
Gordon: We knew as a league that we needed to walk in solidarity, and we realized that it was extremely important to all move together and united. I think because of some of the past happenings with the players in that locker room, it was even more pressure. Guys like Sterling Brown, I know he's been through it personally, and he's one of the people that I'd love to reach out to and talk to and see what he's got going on in his community so I can help. At the same time, though, I was very adamant that we get something out of it. To me. it wasn't enough just to walk off and then the next day walk back on and play. It needed to have some sort of result for us to come back. The owners are opening the arenas on voting day to make it easier and more accessible to vote, and I thought that was very necessary.
CBS: After that player protest happened there were meetings that took place to discuss the next steps, and you guys came up with several initiatives, but how do you all keep the focus on these topics once this season is over and later on down the line?
Gordon: We need direction, a plan of action and come together and bring all of our resources together in order to create something that is a staple in America of compassion, empathy, wisdom and equality. We're not just ballplayers, we're people who are affected by this daily. If we come together, I think we have enough power to move mountains.
CBS: What would you like to see from the league or the players collectively going forward?
Gordon: I'm a huge believer in education reform, and LeBron James has his I Promise school and I would love to get the blueprint from him on how he was able to conceptualize that. From that standpoint, I think that's the direction we should go in.