“He’s too smart for the league”

NBA Player Jaylen Brown on Racism, Donald Trump, and Colin Kaepernick

January 22, 2018 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


From a reader:

Jaylen Brown who plays for the NBA Boston Celtics gave a wide-ranging interview to The Guardian before leaving for London with his team to play a game there. Brown, who is Black, was the third pick two years ago in the NBA draft, and starts for the Celtics.

He recounted racism in Marietta, Georgia where he grew up. Brown said, “I’ve experienced it through basketball. I’ve had people call me the n-word. I’ve had people come to basketball games dressed in monkey suits with a jersey on. I’ve had people paint their face black at my games. I’ve had people throw bananas in the stands.”

He went on to say, “Racism definitely exists across America today. Of course it’s changed a lot—and my opportunities are far greater than they would have been 50 years ago. So some people think racism has dissipated or no longer exists. But it’s hidden in more strategic places. You have less people coming to your face and telling you certain things. But [Donald] Trump has made it a lot more acceptable for racists to speak their minds.”

He said that when he was 14, “[racism] wounds you. But when I got older and went to the University of California (Berkeley) I learnt about a more subtle racism and how it filters across our education system through tracking, hidden curriculums, social stratification and things I had no idea of before. I was really emotional—because one of the most subtle but aggressive ways racism exists is through our education system.”

When Brown attended Cal Berkeley as a freshman he took a graduate class. He wrote a thesis about how institutionalized sport impacts on education. “There’s this idea of America that some people have to win and some have to lose so certain things are in place to make this happen. Some people have to be the next legislators and political elites and some have to fill the prisons and work in McDonald’s. That’s how America works. It’s a machine which needs people up top, and people down low.”

In speaking about Colin Kaepernick, the NFL player who led a movement in the league of refusing to stand for the national anthem in protest against police brutality and murder of Black people and who is now blackballed from the league, Brown said, “It made people think. It made people angry. It made people want to talk. Often everybody is comfortable with their role in life and they forget about the people who are uncomfortable. So for Colin to put his career on the line, and sacrifice himself, was amazing. But Colin was fed up with the police brutality and pure racism. He speaks for many people in this country—including me….”

“We’re having some of the same problems we had 50 years ago. Some things have changed a lot but other factors are deeply embedded in our society. It takes protests like Kaepernick’s to make people uncomfortable and aware of these hidden injustices. People are now a lot more aware, engaged and united in our culture. It takes a special person like Kaepernick to force these changes—because often reporters and fans say: ‘If you’re an athlete I don’t want you to say anything. You should be happy you’re making x amount of money playing sport. You should be saluting America instead of critiquing it.’ That’s our society.”

When asked about Trump, Brown said, “I just think Trump’s character and some of his values makes him unfit to lead. For someone like him to be president, and in charge of our troops? It’s scary to be honest.”

Before the 2016 NBA draft, The Undefeated wrote an article about Brown calling him “the 2016 NBA draft’s renaissance man.” During his first year at Cal Berkeley, Brown taught himself Spanish.; He is a self-taught pianist, and has now learned the Arabic alphabet including its pronunciation. His favorite sport is soccer. He talked about missing the intellectual atmosphere at Cal, where he said he was learning something new every day.

During his freshman year at Cal he took classes on global poverty and practice, theoretical studies, and student activism. He said that he wanted to be able to debunk “a lot of misconceptions about people who are poor, homeless or etc.” He also took a class on chess as an elective.

Brown’s intellectual pursuits led an unnamed NBA executive to say that he was “too smart for the league.” Another NBA general assistant said, “…Because he is so smart, it might be intimidating to some teams. He wants to know why you are doing something instead of just doing it. I don’t think it’s bad, but it’s a form of questioning authority…”

Brown told the Guardian, “…I disagree that an athlete can’t be intelligent. Some people think that, in basketball, we have a bunch of masculine adults who don’t know how to control themselves. They’re feeble-minded and can’t engage or articulate ideas. That’s a narrative they keep trying to paint. We’re trying to change it because that statement definitely has a racist undertone.”

Brown is concerned that the youth today do not have an understanding about the world they live in. He says that, “Even though I’ve ended up in a great place, who is to say where I would’ve been without basketball? It makes me feel for my friends. And my little brothers or cousins have no idea how their social mobility is being shaped. I wish more and more that I can explain it to them. Just because I’m the outlier in my neighborhood who managed to avoid the barriers set up to keep the privileged in privilege, and the poor still poor, why should I forget about the people who didn’t have the same chance as me?”

In the past few years, athletes like Jaylen Brown and Colin Kaepernick have made a break from the stereotypical jock culture of being an uncritical athlete. They are seeing and learning about the “bigger world.” They are questioning it, speaking about it, and acting on it in a positive way.


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