NBA may let players wear statements on jerseys

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul, president of the National Basketball Players’ Association, told ESPN’s The Undefeated on Saturday that the union and the league are collaborating to allow players to wear specialized jerseys with a personalized social justice, social cause or charity message on the back instead of last names during the upcoming restart of the season.

The personalized NBA jerseys with a statement is one of a long list of social justice messages the players plan to make when the league restarts in Orlando, Fla., on July 30 through the remainder of the season. The NBA and the NBPA announced an agreement last Wednesday to continue to discussion toward fight systemic racism and to make it one of the main focus on the restart. These personalized jerseys could say such things as “Black Lives Matter” or “I Can’t Breathe,” bring light to a social or charitable cause or even display the name of George Floyd or Breonna Taylor, both African-Americans who were killed by police in recent months.

“We’re just trying to continue to shed light on the different social justice issues that guys around our league continue to talk about day in and day out,” Paul told The Undefeated. “People are saying that social justice will be off of everybody’s mind in Orlando. With these jerseys, it doesn’t go away.”

NBA players heavily involved in protests nationwide, vocal on social media and involved in the aftermath of Floyd’s death in Minneapolis on May 25 and Taylor’s death in Louisville, Ky., on March 13 at the hands of police. For those players who would rather bring up awareness to cause or charity on their jerseys not connected to social injustice, police brutality or other racial issues, Paul said will be accepted as well. Paul, whose Thunder will be playing in the NBA restart, said he has not decided what he would want on the back of his jersey.

Paul said that he has talked to numerous players, including those who are non-Black, who support the jersey idea. Paul said players will not be forced and pressured to wear jerseys with a social justice message. There will also be suggestions offered to players looking for a cause to get behind on their jerseys. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a media conference call on Friday that the league “has work to do” to make progress in hiring African-American in notable roles and the need for diversity was discussed at a recent Board of Governor’s meeting. The NBA was 74.9 percent Black during the 2018-19 season, according to 2019 NBA Complete Racial and Gender Report Card released by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida last Wednesday.

“The guys I talked to were definitely excited,” Paul, 35, said. “The reason I’m passionate and excited about it is that it gives a voice to the voiceless. It also gives guys a chance to shine a light on something they are passionate about. Otherwise, they may have not have been given a chance to express themselves.”

Paul has protested peacefully at a Black Lives Matter event in Los Angeles and has been vocal on social media about racial injustice and police brutality. The 15-year NBA veteran is hopeful that the jerseys will spark more conversation about each player’s social message or cause listed on the back of their jersey in media interviews. Paul also says the NBPA plans to respectfully reach out to the families of the likes of Floyd, Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin and others who have died to get their permission and blessing to use their names of the back of the NBA jerseys.

“I was just thinking about how forward thinking our league is and how passionate the players in our league are about different issues,” Paul said. “Our guys have been marching on the frontlines and using their platforms. If guys are choosing to come down to Orlando to make sacrifices and play this game, why not be able to play and still say his or her name at the same time?

“At marches they are saying, ‘Say his name … George Floyd. Say her name … Breonna Taylor.’ Obviously, we have to reach out to the families to see if that is OK.”

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