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Clippings: Doc Rivers discusses the black athlete dichotomy

The Clippers coach spoke with the L.A. Times about how black athletes are devalued the moment they step off the court.

Los Angeles Clippers v Houston Rockets Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The U.S. continues to experience protests in response to the killings of George Floyd and other black Americans at the hands of the police. In many locations, black NBA athletes have helped coordinate activism, including Trae Young in Norman, Oklahoma; Jaylen Brown and Malcolm Brogdon in Atlanta; and Stephen Jackson in Minneapolis.

Until recently, it hasn’t always been the case that athletes — particularly black athletes —were welcome in political conversations, something that Bill Plaschke noted in an L.A. Times column Tuesday. Even within the last four years, Colin Kaepernick was effectively blackballed from the NFL for peacefully protesting police brutality by taking a knee. Doc Rivers commented on that part of the black athlete experience in the piece:

“It’s the same with all black athletes,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers. “When they’re wearing the uniform, they’re seen as an athlete. When they take it off, it’s a problem.”

That’s what makes it so much more powerful that athletes have been at the forefront of the protests around the country. For so long, they have been valued only for their contributions on the court or on the field. As Rivers said, they lost their power when the uniform came off. But this moment is different: athletes have more to offer as American citizens, and that is what they are doing.

Rivers experienced the beginnings of this movement firsthand when the players took control of how to handle the Donald Sterling situation. He made a strong statement on behalf of the Clippers this past weekend, and he hopes that the players’ voices will continue to break through at this critical juncture in history.

“What is happening is not new. It’s been going on for a long time. People have been speaking about these things and only a few people have heard it,” Rivers said. “But I tell people, you’ve got to keep speaking the truth. It’s worth it. Just because you’re taking the right stand doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, but it’s worth it.”

“The players have to lead, the coaches have to lead, the owners have to lead,” Rivers said. “The protests are going to stop, but this leadership has to survive the protests, we have to continue to be honest about slavery and the effect of it.”

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