This post was originally published by The Good Men Project.
July 17, 2019 by Michael Kasdan
“I believe it’s the responsibility of anyone on the privileged end of those inequalities to help make things right. So if you don’t want to know anything about me, outside of basketball, then listen — I get it. But if you do want to know something? Know I believe that. Know that about me.”
– Kyle Korver
Now that we are well past the NBA Finals, having crowned the Toronto Raptors champions, welcomed a new NBA rookie crop through the NBA Draft, and come out the other end of one of the most intense off-seasons in the history of the NBA, it seems a good time to ask:
What was the biggest moment of this past NBA season and off-season?
There are so many great moments to choose from – Kawhi’s game-winning fade-away on the baseline to send them to the Finals, Durant and Kyrie heading to Brooklyn, Russell Westbrook reuniting with James Harden, Zion leading a crop of impact rookies into the league, or the Knicks fantastic summer league play (that’s a joke, sorry!).
But for me, that moment happened on April 8, 2019, and it didn’t happen on the hardwood. Nothing that happened since has changed my mind.
On April 8, 2019, the well-traveled Utah Jazz three-point marksman and Ashton Kutcher doppelganger, Kyle Korver, published a piece he wrote called ‘Privileged,’ on The Players’ Tribune. It came out of nowhere, and it was an absolute truth-bomb.
Korver wrote about his reaction to the plight of his teammate Thabo Sefalosha, who was the victim of police violence.
He wrote about a high profile racial incident that happened during a Jazz home game against Russell Westbook’s Oklahoma Thunder, and the impact that had on his team.
He wrote about being a white guy in a largely black NBA.
He wrote about racism. He wrote about white privilege. And he wrote about being an ally. In so doing, he acknowledged that because of his whiteness, he is in the conversation from the privileged perspective of being able to opt into it. Those words hit home.
Simply put, Kyle Korver’s Players’ Tribune piece is one of the best pieces I’ve read on white privilege.
And now, more than ever, we need strong voices coming from allies in the fight against racism. Korver stepping up to do that – while shining a light on his own privilege – is laudable:
“There’s an elephant in the room that I’ve been thinking about a lot over these last few weeks. It’s the fact that, demographically, if we’re being honest: I have more in common with the fans in the crowd at your average NBA game than I have with the players on the court.
And after the events in Salt Lake City last month, and as we’ve been discussing them since, I’ve really started to recognize the role those demographics play in my privilege. It’s like — I may be Thabo’s friend, or Ekpe’s teammate, or Russ’s colleague; I may work with those guys. And I absolutely 100% stand with them.
But I look like the other guy.
And whether I like it or not? I’m beginning to understand how that means something.
What I’m realizing is, no matter how passionately I commit to being an ally, and no matter how unwavering my support is for NBA and WNBA players of color … I’m still in this conversation from the privileged perspective of opting in to it. Which of course means that on the flip side, I could just as easily opt out of it. Every day, I’m given that choice — I’m granted that privilege — based on the color of my skin.
In other words, I can say every right thing in the world: I can voice my solidarity with Russ after what happened in Utah. I can evolve my position on what happened to Thabo in New York. I can be that weird dude in Get Out bragging about how he’d have voted for Obama a third term. I can condemn every racist heckler I’ve ever known.
But I can also fade into the crowd, and my face can blend in with the faces of those hecklers, any time I want.”
These types of stories – told plainly and with self-awareness and the ability to be honest and self-critical – are the types of stories that can inspire real change in others.
There is great power in Korver’s speaking out, because he is a well-known NBA player. He is someone who already has a big media platform, by virtue of his playing in the NBA, stepping up into a leadership role, standing tall, and authentically leading.
He is someone who people already saw as being a role model – albeit for three-point shooting – becoming even more of one. Now we can try to mimic that sweet three-point stroke, but we can also try to emulate how he leads in combating racism.
In addition, Korver’s post demonstrates how important the role of an ally is in helping to address institutional and ingrained societal problems, like racism. And how complicated that is. Being an ally is not simple or necessarily intuitive.
On the one hand, allies need to make sure that they are listening and learning and deferring and supporting and working to understand why the lived experiences of black people (or women) make them uniquely suited to be the leading voices in addressing issues that are intimately tied to racism (or sexism).
On the other hand, when allies do speak up, it can be very powerful, because they are tapping into and using the power of their privilege. The ironic reality of the situation is that many white players and white people may well listen more when a white player like Korver speaks up about the issue of racism than when a black player does. In a strange way, perhaps, it gives other white people permission or cover or inspiration. And it provides other white people with a model to speak up about racism and privilege.
Thank you for your leadership, Kyle Korver.
As for the rest of us, we should go read his words. Do our own part to carry the conversation forward. Speak out. Act.
Those are important steps, but just the first steps. Because after that, as Kyle says, it’s “time for [him] to shut up and listen.”