With restart looming, Utah Jazz have ‘vowed to continue to be outspoken’ on social issues

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles (2), Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) and Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (10) during a break in the action, in NBA action between the Utah Jazz and the New York Knicks, in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020.

For most of his career with the Utah Jazz, Donovan Mitchell has had a routine of getting on social media a couple hours before each game and tweeting out the energetic exhortation, “Let’s go!”

He hasn’t stopped doing that, but he is changing it up a bit these days.

Before Monday’s scrimmage finale in Orlando against the Brooklyn Nets, Mitchell tweeted, “Let’s go... and ARREST BREONNA TAYLORS MURDERS!” [sic] while tagging Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron.

Mitchell said about a week ago that it was imperative that those in the league continue to harp on messages of racial equality, of social justice, of police reform, to keep them in the forefront of the public’s minds. And with the Jazz just a short time away now from having a captive national audience when they play in the first official game of the NBA’s return on Thursday, they seem primed to do exactly that.

And everyone — everyone — is trying to do their part.

Every player on the team in the bubble selected a socially-themed message to replace his own surname on the back of their jerseys. Every coach and team staffer within the Disney World campus has taken to wearing “Coaches for Racial Justice” pins on their shirts during games. Meanwhile, various media reports seem to indicate that the players involved in Thursday’s games will — in violation of league policy — take a knee during the national anthem.

And that’s just the beginning.

“As a team, we’ve vowed to continue to be outspoken about it, continue to voice our opinions — whether that’s through social media, or wearing it on a T-shirt, or some kind of symbolism or actions that we may be doing,” Mike Conley said after Tuesday’s practice. “Each guy has their own niche and what they want to do and how they want to approach things and what they want to give money to or whatever they want to fight for. So we just continue to encourage each other to continue to be loud, to continue to proudly show how much we are behind this cause and all those people who are affected.”

Forward Joe Ingles, who will wear the word “Ally” on his jersey during the restart, explained how he settled upon that particular choice, and what it means to and for him.

“My situation is a little different, being from Australia, a totally different country. I actually spoke with my teammates about what, for them, would help show my support, which word or which saying would would be an impact for them. … What would mean something?” Ingles explained. “… I think just the meaning of it [is] uniting together and — from my point of view — them knowing that I’ve got their back 100% through this.”

Coach Quin Snyder, who is a part of the Coaches Association’s Committee on Racial Injustice and Reform, noted a few weeks back that the organization printed up and passed out calendars which give a historical example of a racial inequity carried out on each day of the year. Snyder has taken to opening some recent media sessions by reading that day’s account.

He added recently that the buttons that he and the other coaches are wearing — and will continue to wear — are just a small way they can continue to support their players and to keep driving the narrative of needed change.

“I think the message is very straightforward. It’s something that, as I’ve mentioned before, that all the coaches in the league have talked about, and we’re really committed to continuing to raise dialogue and, to the extent that we can, impact long-term change,” Snyder said. “So this is a short period of time, actually, to be wearing them, relative to some of the things that we want to see that are going on with racial and social justice issues.”

Mitchell continues to hammer home the story of Breonna Taylor, an emergency medical technician who was fatally shot in her own home by Louisville police serving a no-knock search warrant on a fruitless drug raid. One of the officers involved has since been fired, but none have been arrested.

Taylor’s story prompted Mitchell to select “Say Her Name” for his jersey message. The story resonates with him in part because Taylor lived in Louisville, where he played his college ball, but also because he can envision his mother and sister in Taylor’s place.

“The fact that African-American women can’t be safe in their own homes is wild, just the concept is wild. And the fact that there hasn’t been anything done about it is even crazier. For me, looking from the outside in, it’s just like, what are we waiting for?” Mitchell said. “… For us, looking at it as African Americans, how can we not feel safe? The statement on one of the jerseys says, ‘Am I Next?’ If I wasn’t Donovan Mitchell of the Jazz, could I be next? Even me being who I am, could I be next? It’s happening all over. … So for me, having my mom and sister, seeing that happen to an African American female is dear to my heart, as well.”

While Mitchell and other players continue to make impassioned pleas — for justice, for change — Ingles will do what he can to help.

It’s inevitable that he will have a different perspective than many of his teammates, that he can’t identify with or relate to the struggles they are so passionately projecting. That said, he is out to prove that being an ally is about far more than simply putting a slogan on a jersey.

“There’s a lot of people fighting for things right now. And like I said, being in a bit of a unique situation, being a white Australian and not being from this country, I’m kind of learning on the fly,” Ingles said. “I’ve learned a lot over the last few weeks, some that I didn’t know at all and some that I had an idea about but have been brought up to speed a lot more. It’s been a really educational few weeks for me.”