• Sumo

By Ken Reed

On Monday of this week, The Player’s Tribune published a compelling piece from Utah Jazz forward Kyle Korver entitled “Privileged.”

Korver’s article was sparked by a recent incident at a Jazz home game. The Jazz were playing against the Oklahoma City Thunder. During the game, the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook was the target of hateful, racially-charged comments from a fan near the floor.

Korver writes about how the incident struck a nerve with the entire team. The feeling in the Jazz locker room was that the overarching issue went well beyond a verbal spat between a fan and Westbrook. It was about “racism in America,” as Korver put it.

The article is compelling for a lot of reasons, but two stand out for me: 1) Korver’s soul-searching and vulnerability; and 2) His strong message to white people in general, and white athletes in particular, to move beyond simply being against racism to actually taking steps to do something about it.

Korver holds himself accountable. He spends some time explaining that while he’s always been against overt and institutional racism, he’s never actively done much about it.

The Westbrook incident spurred him to start asking himself some tough questions.

“I’m trying to ask myself what I should actually do,” writes Korver. “How can I — as a white man, part of this systemic problem — become part of the solution when it comes to racism in my workplace? In my community? In this country?”

Powerful questions indeed.

“I know that, as a white man, I have to hold my fellow white men accountable,” writes Korver.

“We all have to hold each other accountable. And we all have to be accountable — period. Not just for our own actions, but also for the ways that our inaction can create a “safe” space for toxic behavior. … We have to be active. We have to be actively supporting the causes of those who’ve been marginalized — precisely because they’ve been marginalized.”

In 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr. led a march for civil rights (in particular, voting rights) from Selma, Alabama to the state capitol in Montgomery. The march was made up of 2,000 people, black and white. At one point, before the marchers reached Montgomery, a young white minister named James Reeb was beaten to death by those who opposed the march. Ultimately, nearly 50,000 supporters, black and white, met the marchers in Montgomery. President Lyndon B. Johnson went on national television to voice his support for the Selma protesters and to call for the passage of a new voting rights bill he was introducing in Congress. Congress passed it a few months later.

The point is, in 1965, when a significant number of white people of privilege moved from being against racism to actively joining their brothers and sisters of color in the fight against it, the country moved a little closer to its ideal of equality for all.

A similar movement needs to happen today. As Korver writes:

“I believe that what’s happening to people of color in this country — right now, in 2019 — is wrong. … The fact that inequality is built so deeply into so many of our most trusted institutions is wrong. And I believe it’s the responsibility of anyone on the privileged end of those inequalities to help make things right.”

Thank you for the call to action Mr. Korver. Well done.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans

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