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Author Etan Thomas Talks New Book And The State Of Activism In The NBA

The now-revealed January assault upon the body of Milwaukee Bucks rookie Sterling Brown is a testament to how little has changed in this country. Recently I had an honest discussion with former NBA player turned activist Etan Thomas about his book, We Matter: Athletes and Activism, the state of activism in professional sports, and much more. 

The Shadow League: We’re well into the renewed paradigm of athletes and activism. At this point, the National Football League has officially given their stance as being anti-protest and willing to appease the lower sensibilities of our national consciousness. What are your thoughts on this paradigm and how should NFL players respond? 

Etan Thomas: The NFL made their decision for mainly three reasons and none of them have anything to do with patriotism. 

They are paid millions by the Department of Defense to promote militarism. So even though the NFL players taking a knee has nothing to do with the flag or military but is a direct protest to the continuous killing of unarmed Black Men and Women at the hands of the police with no accountability, that doesnt matter. The perception is what effects their bottom line and thats why they are vehemently against it. Theyre not overwhelmed with a never-wavering dedication to patriotism. They are concerned with profits, what the NFL has always been concerned with.

The NFL gave into a bully in the form of the president of the United States who has made his wishes and demands known that every player should stand for the anthem and show proper respect. 

They also chose to appeal to the segment of their fans that bought into the created narrative that the protests were about the flag and military instead of what the players repeatedly expressed it being about. And the asinine part is, even after the NFL acquiesced to Trumps wishes it still wasnt enough.  

Trump told Fox News, I dont think people should be staying in the locker rooms. You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldnt be playing, you shouldnt be there. Maybe you shouldnt be in the country.

This just shows that when you give into a bully, they are always going to take it a step further and want more. 

TSL: It has recently been revealed that a polling firm co-founded by Jake Lockhart, former NFL communications VP, asked questions specific to Kaepernick to its responders.  That information was then memo’d to Roger Goodell in October of that year.  Do you believe that strengthens Kaepernick’s collusion case?

ET: I hope for the sake of future athlete activists that Kaepernick and Eric Reid win this collusion case. Its become bigger than them. They have sacrificed their careers for others and that puts them in the upper echelon of athlete activists who will be remembered and admired and taught for generations to come.  

I had the chance to interview Eric Reid for We Matter and it is crystal clear what is going on. They are currently being kept out of the league in order to send a direct message to future athlete activists that if you step too far out of line, you too will be Kaepernicked. Its a scare tactic. This collusion case would not allow the NFL to be successful in that scare tactic effort. Its a method of control. 

TSL:  The video of Sterling Brown being tased without provocation is now a part of the national record,  yet both the NFL and the NBA to a lesser extent, are at apathetic to the substantive institutional change required to put a stop to these things require. What now?

ET: The NBA is just completely different than the NFL. Prime example, immediately after the video was released the Milwaukee Bucks offered a strong statement of support for Sterling Brown. Not a lukewarm statement but a serious statement of support. 

I dont know if you would ever see something like that from an NFL team. Its just a different league. 

But I applaud Sterling Brown for his strong words of how he is going to use this moment and use his voice not just for himself but for everyone else who this happens to daily and for all the people who lost their lives to police brutality. 

TSL: We Matter is the title of your book. Why that title?

ET: The title is not We Matter Athletes And Activism because I am trying to convince the naysayers of anything at all nor is the purpose of the book to explain our reason for being, but rather to show future athletes and young athletes and current athletes the power of their voices. 

John Wall, who I interviewed for the book, explained to me how inspired he was watching D Wade and Carmelo and Lebron and Chris Paul at the ESPYs having the courage to start the show by talking about police brutality and Black Lives Matter. Thats exactly what I want to do with this book, I want Athletes to read these interviews and be inspired. 

I want them to read aboutD Wade explaining in detail exactly why he stood up for Trayvon Martin and how that case made him think about his sons and why the entire Miami Heat team posed in the iconic hoodies picture; I want them to read Carmelo Anthony discuss why he marched with the people of Baltimore after Freddie Gray was murdered and how it personally effected him; I want them to hear Russell Westbrook explain why he chose to speak out about Terence Crutchers death and why he was not afraid to use his voice and didnt hesitate no matter what criticism came his way, I want them to hear Tameka Catchings discuss the decision for the entire team to take a knee to protest police brutality ; I want them to hear Swin Cash discuss what the entire WNBA did after Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were killed I want all of these interviews to be an inspiration for every athlete who reads them. 

When I was young, I was inspired reading about Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Bill Russell and John Carlos and Harry Edwards and Mahmoud Abdul Rauf so I interviewed them all for this book in an effort for their words and thoughts and feelings and stories to inspire other athletes as well.

TSL: What’s next for the NBA in terms of activism? 

ET: NBA players and coaches are going to continue using their voices and their platforms. There is no muzzle, no friction, no opposition coming from the NBA for them to do that. In fact, NBA players are encouraged to use their voices which is why I wanted to interview Mark Cuban CEO of the Dallas Mavericks who told me, Should athletes and coaches and CEOs as you say should they all speak out ? Definitely. When the Iraq war happened and we had Steve Nash who spoke out against it, I was perfectly fine with that. Athletes should speak out. Youre a citizen. Its your right to speak out. 

And Ted Leonsis CEO of the Washington Wizards who told me, I would assure (players) that they have the freedom to speak their minds and to be passionate about whatever it is they are passionate about. ….  I think these have become really big platforms for people. And each generation of players, their cognizance around the opportunity is becoming better all around

I just dont think you would hear that from Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys or Dan Snyder of the Washington Football Team and definitely not Bob McNair of the Houston Texans.  It was important for me to interview Golden State Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr and have him express how he supports his players activism and how he and fellow coaches Greg Popovich, and Stan Van Gundy are also given the support from the NBA to use their voices. 

As he told me in We Matter, Coaches have generally not been at the forefront, its been mostly players. But I think the connection with Pop {Greg Popovich} and Stan {Stan Van Gundy} and myself is that we dont have any fear about being fired over saying something that is just

Commissioner Adam Silver told me, What is special about this league and something Ive worked very hard at, is making sure that players feel safe having a voice on important societal matters. Ive heard from employees in other industries, other companies, athletes in other situations, where they have told me they have a strong point of view but theyre concerned that it will have a direct impact on their employment……I think that because of the strength of the Players Association, players have felt comfortable and safe speaking out on issues that matter to them…. in fact, weve made it a point to encourage players to be active participants in our system.  

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