I am a native Utahn, which means the bulk of the people I’ve interacted with for most of my life have been white.
I remember being a student at Kennedy Jr. High when, one day, there was someone new in my history class, a Black kid named Antoine who’d just moved here from St. Louis. His presence presence probably drew more attention than he would have liked, simply because so many people there had never even known a Black person before.
In the summer between my ninth- and 10-grade years, I went to visit my dad, who was working in Pennsylvania, and he wanted to take our family around the East Coast to a bunch of places we’d never been before. The first city we visited was Baltimore, and it’s not hyperbole when I say that within two minutes of setting foot within the Inner Harbor, I saw more Black people than I’d seen in my entire life up to that point.
In that moment, in that area, me and my white family were the minorities for the first time in my life. And do you know what I thought? “I wonder if this is how Antoine felt moving to Utah.”
That memory was on my mind Tuesday and Wednesday night, as I listened to various Jazz and NBA players reflect on, first, the decision in Kenosha, Wis., not to file charges against the cop who shot Jacob Blake seven times, and then, a day later, the pro-Trump rioters who invaded the U.S. Capitol. All of these discussions are illuminating to me because they provide insight into experiences so far removed from my own.
Yes, like so many others, I felt disgust and dismay at seeing the Capitol overrun by an angry mob. You know what Jordan Clarkson saw? A double-standard. Why were peaceful protestors under the Black Lives Matter banner in various cities this summer met by tear gas and phalanxes of cops in riot gear, while Wednesday’s group in D.C. was met by a quickly-overwhelmed bunch of Capitol police who clearly had not anticipated much of a threat?
“You know what those people have done today, and there was no consequences for them at all, even though on the other side it would have been a different story,” Clarkson said. “It would have ended in multiple deaths, arrests — it’s just kind of a crazy situation that is just mind-blowing.”
It’s telling that the responses to each were so vastly different.
Meanwhile, there’s the Jacob Blake situation. The District Attorney there ruled he could not proceed with charges because, as Blake had been carrying a box cutter and was not obeying police commands, he couldn’t prove the officer involved did not feel threatened and was thereby allowed to protect himself.
I’ve already heard the responses to this one: “He shouldn’t have had a weapon.” “If you don’t want to get shot, then just do what the cops tell you to.” “Why do we feel bad for a criminal?” “Here’s a story about a white guy who got shot by the police. Why aren’t you making a big deal about that?”
It’s pretty simple: Black people have reason to believe that, whether from overt racism or unconscious bias, their interactions with police are disproportionately likely to be negative, and that should one end in tragic fashion, the officers in such cases are unlikely to be held to account.
“It just gets to a point where it’s like, ‘What more? What else?’ You know what I mean? That’s really where I’m at. You look at [Jacob Blake], you look at Breonna Taylor, it’s just like, ‘What else?’ And I don’t have words,” said Donovan Mitchell. “It’s sad that it’s become a thing where you don’t really expect any justice out of these things. Because it’s like, man, as an African-American male, it’s just one of those things where you’re scared and it doesn’t matter who the hell you are.”
Think about that last sentence for a minute.
As these issues have come up throughout the past year, I’ve had so many people respond along the lines of: “Oh, poor millionaire athlete has it so tough.” Or, “I don’t pay them to talk about politics. And they’re being disrespectful when they kneel for the anthem. I’m done watching them.” I even get the occasional, “Um, all people are afraid of police. I’m white, and my parents taught me if I get pulled over to keep my hands on the steering wheel.”
Again, think about that last sentence: Donovan Mitchell, NBA All-Star, Adidas pitchman, famous person, said that when he’s off the court, not wearing his basketball jersey, he is scared.
I’ve been pulled over by cops before for minor traffic violations, and never been asked who/where I got the car from, or if I would consent to having it searched, or told to step outside the vehicle. As a kid, I played with toy guns out in the front yard and never once considered that a policeman driving by might consider me a threat and shoot me. I once even had the cops called on me by someone who falsely accused me of being violent, and was not immediately put in handcuffs, let alone had my neck kneeled on.
Would the same be true for Donovan or Jordan had they been in my place? In any of those cases?
And so, a simple request: Next time an incident like the aforementioned ones are in the news, and you hear an athlete speak out about it, rather than immediately reacting with disdain or being dismissive, maybe ask yourself why they feel that way, perhaps try to consider their perspective.
You don’t need to drop $100 on a pair of D.O.N. Issue #2s in order to put yourself in his shoes.
Heavy stuff’s over; here’s a Mailbag Q&A!
So, we’re trying out something new — you asking me questions on Twitter or via email, and me answering some of them in this space every week. If you’ve got something Jazz- or music- or reporter-related you want me to touch on, hit me up @tribjazz or via email@example.com. Now then, onto the questions:
• Hey First time, Long time. I have only one question. Why are the Jazz playing so poorly when they have shown they can play so well? I’ll hang up and listen. — @gubihero
Thanks for calling! So, to hear the Jazz tell it, they’re not far off from where they want to be, they just need to focus more on the little things such as transition defense, and being more physical, and taking care of the ball. In my expert opinion, such things get repeated ad nauseum because there’s a reluctance to acknowledge, eight games in, that there might be serious issues.
But there are. There’s plenty of stuff to wonder about at this point: Is Bojan Bogdanovic’s wrist permanently messed up? (Starting to wonder.) Is Donovan pressing too hard right now, and can that be fixed? (Yes, and almost assuredly.) Why is the effort so inconsistent? (Honestly, it’s part of the human condition — no matter how much we love our jobs or how well we’re paid, focus wanes sometimes. That said, they’re waning far too often right now.) As you mentioned, we’ve seen them have good stretches. But it was telling that J.C. said after the Knicks loss that, aside from the season-opening win vs. the Blazers, he didn’t feel like the Jazz had put together a complete game since. That is troubling.
• Since the Jazz have no perimeter defence, at least in the current rotation, your thoughts on starting Joe over Royce? The pick-and-roll numbers are better with Rudy than Derrick. — @JazzRaytion
The Jazz are 18th in D-rating as of this writing, and the issue is more two-pronged than I first realized. As my cohort Andy Larsen noted in his most recent Triple Team, the perimeter guys are over-helping, and Rudy has been under-helping. We can probably count on Rudy finding his way, but I truly kind of doubt that they have the personnel at present to get the perimeter issues fully solved.
To your question specifically, Joe’s not an upgrade defensively at this point of his career, as both he and Royce are far more adept at guarding bigger wings than they are guards, but is it worth it anyway just to get Joe more minutes with Rudy offensively? Quin Snyder had been altering Rudy’s playing stretches to actually get him some extra run with Joe and the second unit, but he changed it back to the old ways against the Knicks, so it appears he didn’t see enough upside to keeping it. Maybe this switch might result in Fav getting a few extra offensive touches?
• Jazz catch a huge break against Nets but still find a way to lose - The Athletic