Proving the movement to combat police violence isn’t going anywhere, Kobe Bryant and most of his Los Angeles Lakers teammates rocked “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts during pre-game warmups before taking a win against the Sacramento Kings Tuesday night.
Joining Derrick Rose, Reggie Bush, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, and a handful of other ball players in the political action, Bryant and the team (excluding backup center Robert Sacre) wore Eric Garner’s last words across their chests to stand in solidarity with both the protesters fighting for justice and other athletes taking a stance.
If you recall, 43-year-old Garner was killed when New York Police Department officer Daniel Pantaleo placed him in a chokehold that has been banned by the department. Last week, a Staten Island grand jury elected not to indict Pantaleo in Garner’s death. Garner was unarmed.
“I think it’s us supporting that movement and supporting each other as well as athletes,” Bryant said after the game. “I think the beauty of our country lies in its democracy. I think if we ever lose the courage to be able to speak up for the things that we believe in, I think we really lose the value that our country stands for.”
“It’s important that we have our opinions. It’s important that we stand up for what we believe in and we all don’t have to agree with it, and it’s completely fine. That’s what makes this a beautiful country.”
Bryant also added that the fight for justice isn’t just an African-American issue.
“I think it would be a serious disservice to limit this to a race issue. It’s a justice issue,” he said. “You’re kind of seeing a tipping point right now, in terms of social issues. It’s become now at the forefront right now as opposed to being a local issue. It’s really been something that has carried over and spilled into the mainstream, so when you turn on the TV and you watch the news or you follow things on social media, you don’t just see African-Americans out there protesting.”
Not everyone was happy with Bryant’s action, including CBS Sports’ Doug Gottlieb and sports radio host John Middlekauff, who sent out these offensive tweets that suggested Bryant was too privileged to stand up for human rights:
Middlekauff later apologized:
Apologize for an earlier tweet, I chose my words poorly. Didn’t come across what I meant. Major failure on my part
— John Middlekauff (@JohnMiddlekauff) December 10, 2014
Ignorance aside, support for players’ demonstrations has soared in recent days. Though players are required to wear Adidas attire (the league’s official apparel provider), the NBA has decided not to fine individuals who wore the shirts in solidarity with Garner’s supporters.
“I respect Derrick Rose and all of our players for voicing their personal views on important issues but my preference would be for players to abide by our on-court attire rules,” commissioner Adam Silver said Monday. Coach Byron Scott said he would support his players. “Freedom of choice and freedom of speech,” coach Byron Scott said. “That’s their choice and whatever they choose, from my standpoint as a coach, I’m going to support them, but that’s their choice.”
Check out some of the powerful images from last night’s courtside protest:
Kudos to all the public figures stepping up to make a change.