Memorial Day saw a pair of viral videos that were but the latest examples of the racism so deeply woven into the fabric of the United States. In one, a white woman in New York called 911, telling the dispatcher that “an African-American male is threatening my life!” when what he had really done is ask her to put her dog on a leash. In the other, a white cop in the Minneapolis Police Department killed George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes, even as the latter implored, “I can’t breathe!”
Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder, at home because of the coronavirus pandemic, saw these videos. He also saw the subsequent footage of protests spreading throughout the nation (some peaceful, some riotous); the images of looters destroying property; of cops resorting to force and at times inflaming the situation; and of people of color telling stories of decades of racism and mistreatment and oppression.
“I needed to have my awareness raised, frankly,” he said Monday on the podcast hosted by ESPN reporter Adrian Wojnarowski.
Snyder’s colleague, Lloyd Pierce, head coach of the Atlanta Hawks, organized a conference call among the NBA’s 30 head coaches over the weekend. The goal was to devise a plan of action, to determine a way in which they could use their platform to accomplish some good.
Snyder, who would wind up joining the National Basketball Coaches Association’s Committee on Racial Injustice and Reform, recalled listening to his black fellow coaches and coming away realizing how much more he could do, how much more he needed to do.
“As a white man, what I was hearing was, ‘We need help.’ And ultimately it’s not enough to just have support, there has to be a willingness to confront these things when you see them. Be willing to take action,” Snyder told Wojnarowski.
Pierce mentioned on the podcast how the bond between NBA players and coaches may be closer than it is in other sports owing to the relatively small roster sizes. Relationships typically can’t help but be closer. “If a player comes to you and tells you, you know, ‘My aunt has cancer,’ you can't stop thinking about it,” Pierce said. “You can't stop thinking about what your player is going through. Every practice, every game.”
If social media is any indication, the past week’s events have clearly weighed heavily on Utah Jazz players’ minds.
On Friday, All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell tweeted, “Seeing a lot of people’s true colors….” followed by a facepalm emoji. On Saturday, he reacted to a video of a white man in Salt Lake City using a bow and arrow to threaten protesters by commenting, “This is sick... just the thought is sick.” On Sunday, posted simply, “Your silence speaks volumes…”
Reserve guard Jordan Clarkson posted several pictures of himself appearing to take part in a protest march in California, writing, “i witnessed a peaceful protest, alot of emotion and unity, the time for change has been passed [sic] due..dont forget the message because of the tone that it is projected in!!” He also juxtaposed the manner in which Huntington Beach police treated predominantly white protesters who arguied a few weeks ago for the easing of stay-at-home restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus against their treatment of those protesting systemic racism and police abuse this weekend.
Rookie Rayjon Tucker took passionate aim at those who continue to mistreat black people, writing: “I just want to know what did we as African Americans do to deserve this treatment? We were enslaved, we were discriminated against, we were oppressed, we were treated unfairly in all aspects. Where did this hatred come from? I want answers!”
Guard Nigel Williams-Goss posted an article his mother wrote for Yahoo. As a white woman who married a black man, and as a stepmother to a black son and a birth mother to a biracial child, Dr. Valerie Williams-Goss has made it “my mission to educate as many white people as possible on the true injustices taking place in communities of color.”
She wrote of having to address racist comments in gyms; having to fight to ensure school infractions committed by her children were not treated more severely than similar misdeeds committed by their predominantly white classmates; hearing fans express shock that Nigel could be an Academic All-American. She also mentioned that “Since Nigel has been a professional athlete and has more money and nicer things, he has been stopped by the police more, asked senseless questions about where he got his car, why he was driving in that area, whether he has a license, all of the typical racist experiences other black drivers go through.”
She wrote, "Do you, as a white person, have to teach your white children where to put their hands if the police stop them, or how to safely reach for insurance paperwork in the car so the police don’t think your child is reaching for a gun, or what to say in order to stay alive? Because you don’t have to do that, then show some empathy and advocacy for those of us who do.”
Those kinds of examples, Snyder said, made him feel embarrassed that he hadn’t done more to reach out to current assistant Johnnie Bryant, or former assistant Darvin Ham: “I hadn’t done the kind of job at that moment that I could have done, communicating with those guys.”
Of course, such examples also made him resolve to do better, to realize that even if he hasn’t had the same personal experiences with racism as Pierce or coach David Fizdale, that he can still do something about it. The videoconference organized by Pierce helped those who perhaps felt either embarrassed about or out of place in broaching the topic of racism and galvanized them to take action.
“This is not a short-term thing. This is enduring,” Snyder said. “That’s part of what the [white] coaches in the room felt — ‘Hey, we need to mobilize along with our colleagues, and this has to become as important and we have to be as committed as the African-American coaches in that room.’”
That said, he had a message for Utahns who likewise may feel sympathetic about the situation but who have been reluctant to get involved beyond expressing disdain.
“In our community, [it’s important] seeing what’s going on around the country and understanding that you’re not removed from it, you’re not immune to it just because you don’t see a black person in your neighborhood, just because it isn’t touching you the same way,” Snyder said. “You may need to raise your awareness more. You may need to be uncomfortable to accept that these things are going on. There’s an urgency to this.”