On August 23rd, yet another unarmed black man fell victim to police violence. According to reports, Jacob Blake was shot seven times in his back by armed forces, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down, another victim of being black in America. In the following days, the NBA and WNBA players boycotted their scheduled games, putting a temporary hold on their seasons as a demonstration of frustration with the United States’ continued injustices towards black people.

It is important to understand why these players threatened to not play. Breonna Taylor was killed in the privacy of her own home, and the police who murdered her STILL have not been arrested or charged. Ahmaud Arbery was beaten, shot, then killed while out for a jog around his neighborhood; despite video evidence, it took 74 days for his murderers to be arrested. The players of these majority-black leagues are frustrated, sad, and exhausted. They are tired of seeing videos of their brothers and sisters being murdered on the news and on their timelines. So they’ve decided to take a stand against it. Their message is clear: EQUALITY; a demand that resonates with myself, and with every black person in America.

If you’re familiar with some of my work on this site, you may recall that I play basketball professionally overseas, and that I have for the past three seasons. As you might expect, it is much different than living in the United States. Seeing a 6’8” black man walking up and down the streets, making his way in and out of grocery stores, isn’t a common occurrence to most Europeans. Yeah, I’ve gotten my fair share of stares and finger points, but I assume that these natives probably haven’t had many experiences of black people outside of what they see on their televisions, so I tend to consider these things more as curiosities than anything else. However, even with those reality checks, I’ve never had any problems. I’ve never feared for my well-being. I’ve never felt like a target. In all honesty, I fear for my life in America, my native home, much more than I fear for my life living in another country. That is a serious issue.

Throughout my 26 years of living, I have been no stranger to attention. I’m extremely tall and not that hard to miss. I’ve always stood out from the rest of my peers, but while my height has always made me very visible, and at times uncomfortable, it has never been problematic towards anyone else. The color of my skin has, though. For some reason, people have associated the color of my skin with their biased opinions of black people as a whole. They assume I’m poor, uneducated, violent, and that I am, in all ways, less than. But in reality, we’re equals; despite what they may think. We live in the same cities, go to the same schools, pay the same taxes. All we want is to be treated the same as everyone else. We don’t want to be racially profiled and pulled over when driving nice cars that we have worked hard for. We don’t want to be followed around stores as if we are planning on shoplifting. We don’t want to fear death during every encounter with the police. We just want peace and justice.

The NBA and WNBA both restarted and began their seasons amidst some of the most troubling times in recent memory. With police brutality and the protests against it in the national spotlight, the players vowed to use their platforms to influence change; and they have. Representatives of both leagues have worn apparel with printed-on statements such as “Equality” and “All Lives Can’t Matter Until Black Lives Matter.” Doc Rivers delivered an extremely memorable, heart-felt post-game press conference as he spoke emotionally about the Jacob Blake shooting, mentioning how, “We (black people) keep loving this country and this country doesn’t love us back.” And players continue to give back to black communities. Donovan Mitchell took to Twitter to announce that he would be donating $45,000 of proceeds from his signature shoe to support the education of Jacob Blake’s children.

These men and women continue to set the standard on how to use their platforms to bring change. As a black man, it’s so refreshing to see, and I’m very appreciative of steps that the NBA and WNBA representatives are taking in order to bring attention to these important issues that are plaguing this country. Being black in America is a challenge, and these professional athletes are doing their best to make it less so.

10 Comments

  • Avatar Thretch says:

    Thank you Cole, that was indeed very moving. I was just thinking about how disappointed I was at America being so far behind the rest of the world. Is it that people still think there are differences? I once had someone ask me “what’s it like to be Jewish?” as if I experience the world in a different way.

    Or is it that people just need someone else to blame for whatever their problems are; and as a Jew I’ve seen plenty of that of course.

    Ten years ago I worked for a company based in the Midwest, and when I travelled from L.A. to the Home Office I was always shocked by how ethnically undiverse they were at the management level. They also made racist comments that they didn’t even know were racist.

    • Avatar Cole Huff says:

      Thank you for reading my piece, and thank you for sharing some of your own experience.

      I will never understand why people ask suck questions as “What is it like to be Jewish?” It seems pretty rude, and says a lot about them.

      • Avatar Thretch says:

        Yup Cole – the comment “what’s it like to be …” always struck me as saying “you’re different, what’s it like to be different”. Um, we’re not different and you’re a yutz for thinking we are.

  • Avatar Taiji Miyagawa says:

    Thank you, Cole, for this piece and open sharing of your contrasting experiences in Europe vs. the U.S. I am an Asian American who faces relative privilege compared to Black people in the U.S. but am able to empathize due to a history of also facing discrimination and violence (albeit, to lesser degree than facing murderous cops on a daily basis). Many times, I have been associated with “the enemy” and targeted just because of my looks.

    I stand in solidarity with all those who defend Black life and our humanity as one people. I am glad the players took a stand. They set the standard – it is the people who make society run: Not the owners and the people who profit from the mistreatment of others. I see the problem is that the racist police and their unions are set up to defend the interests of the uber rich, and nothing will change until we force it to. I think many players have spoken to this and the message is spreading. We cannot separate the game that we love from the reality of what is going on in the larger society. We have learned from history that any advance that Black people make in society towards and end to racism and inequality helps lift us all towards a higher moral and ethical society.

    • Avatar Cole Huff says:

      Hey thank you for reading!

      I’m glad that you found a bit of relatability in this piece. It will always be a challenge for minorites to be treated as equals, but we can only hope for improvement.

      Thanks for standing in solidarity.

  • Avatar Cole Huff says:

    No need to apologize for speaking your mind! I agree with you that conversation is necessary.

    These situations are already sad and frustrating enough with how brutally these black men are treated, but even more infuriating how minimally the consequences are for the cops. It’s disgusting.

    Anyways, thanks for sharing. I too hope we get better.

  • Avatar chogokin says:

    Thanks as always for the insight, this was an informative read. Similar to what Taiji described above, as an Asian-American I’ll never know what it’s like to be black in America, but I do have some shared experiences growing up as a minority in Orange County (not Irvine lol), and from living in different parts of the country (I spent a few years in the Bay Area and in the DC area as well). I’m glad to see that players are standing up for their beliefs, but honestly, they shouldn’t have to do this to get our attention and spur action. Standing up to racism, making society a more equitable and welcoming place is a job for ALL of us.

    Over the years I think we’ve all encountered at least a few outright racists, but I think what’s frustrated me more than those people (at least they’re easy to spot and not super common) is the number of people who are so unwilling to do even the most basic, easy stuff to help better society.

    It’s not like we can reasonably expect everyone to actually be on the frontlines of these protests and to get beaten and sprayed with pepper spray. Nobody is asking a suburban mom with 4 young kids to sacrifice her children’s safety by getting wailed on by police/federal agents. But maybe it wouldn’t be too much trouble to…I dunno, vote for someone who takes these issues seriously and genuinely has empathy for those who have experienced the worst parts of society instead of someone who you (probably mistakenly) think will raise the value of your 401(k) by 1%? Or, how about instead of recoiling in horror, averting your gaze, and walking away when approached by a minority with a clipboard at a grocery store, you look them in the eyes, talk to them, or at least politely say “sorry, I can’t help today,” and treat them like a human being? Maybe get involved in your community and/or neighborhood, and actually talk/listen to some of your neighbors who don’t look/think like you? If you have friends who are in the police force, talk to them about their work, try to understand where they’re coming from, and maybe try to help them understand what their actions look/feel like to the rest of us?

    Not everyone is able/willing to become MLK or Gandhi, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t little things *ALL* of us can do. It’s 2020, we need to be better than this.

  • Avatar Shapan Debnath says:

    being a poc who lived in europe for multiple years, i experienced racism out there too. my roommate and classmate who is black experienced it much worse and some of his stories were truly awful. even then, that the current state of america makes me fear so much for the black community continues to be unacceptable. i am very privileged being an indian american here, and i hope to use my voice to champion those less privileged than me.

    thank you cole for another great piece, ive loved reading your work so far and im so glad we have your voice on our site.

    • Avatar Cole Huff says:

      Thanks for sharing your experiences regarding these issues. It’s so cool how we can all come to this platform and use our voices.

      I went to college in Omaha for 3 years and also made my way to Des Moines to play a G league game a couple years back. Wish I would’ve been connected with this site sooner so that we could’ve met up and got better acquainted.

      Anyways, I appreciate your input, Shap. And I really enjoy the podcast as well.