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Harrison Barnes: NBA’s Social Justice Ties Remain ‘Part Of The Deal’

Kings forward Harrison Barnes was tweeting about the importance of voting, pushing for citizens to look into early voting and making sure they knew something about the candidates and issues on the ballot. Increasingly, that has been an NBA trend, players, coaches and even organizations as a whole encouraging political involvement.

Thing is, Barnes was doing that two years ago, ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, when he was hitting social media in support of the group, “When We All Vote.”

So he takes some pride in seeing the transformation the league has undergone in the past six months as a more politically aware and sensitive entity. And he does not expect the changes the league has made—honoring the Black Lives Matter movement, encouraging teams to open arenas as voting locations, vowing financial support for social justice causes—to change whenever next season begins.

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That might offend some fans, but for Barnes, being an educated citizen in America takes precedence over his identity as a basketball star.

“At the end of the day, you’re a person before you are a basketball player,” he said in a recent interview, “and it can be easy for some people to want separation but the reality is, as soon as you turn off your TV, as soon as you walk out of the arena, you can’t distance yourself from those issues. So just like you would bring anything else you want to promote into your arena, bringing these issues and these topics is part of the deal.”

During a challenging year that saw NBA players spend more time than usual outside the arena, Barnes stayed especially engaged on causes that matter to him personally. That is why, this month, he was one of five players given the 2019-20 NBA Cares Community Assist Award, honoring the work he has done for causes ranging a reading program he runs in his hometown of Ames, Iowa, to programs addressing food insecurity in Dallas (where Barnes played two-plus seasons with the Mavericks) and Sacramento. He donated $200,000 to help refurbish his high school back in Ames.

“I realize I got to where I am because people took the time to invest in me and make sacrifices and hopefully I can pay that forward and try to my part to help somebody else,”’ Barnes said.

‘People Were Tired Of Seeing The Same Thing Happen Over And Over’

But while continuing to have a local impact, Barnes was at the forefront of national-scale issues. He donated $200,000 to eight organizations that help families who have lost loved ones to police brutality. And when, in late May, video circulated of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, who eventually died, Barnes was moved to direct action, like so many across the country.

The video was especially hurtful for those in Sacramento, where the wounds from the killing of Stephon Clark two years ago still have not healed. Barnes was playing for the Mavs then, but was moved by the Clark protests outside the Kings’ arena in March 2018, which caused Dallas and Sacramento to play a game in front of a near-empty arena—an eerie bit of foreshadowing for the 2020 NBA.

Barnes was moved to hit the streets, like many of his fellow Sacramentans.

“In Sacramento, to see all the people who came out onto the streets to have their voices heard—this community is very politically active—people were tired of seeing the same thing happen over and over,” Barnes said. “Stephon Clark, somebody dying at the hands of police, black men, black women dying and not being able to fulfill the potential of life, that is what brought everyone together and allowed everyone to say, ‘Look, we need change.’”

It is something Barnes—and other athletes across the nation—has been talking about for a while, sometimes to a metaphorically deaf audience. But the realities of the COVD-19 pandemic, with so many people furloughed from work and/or quarantined, made the reality of what happened to Floyd impossible to ignore. Once that anger set in, the anger that attended past instances of unjust killing of Black victims by police followed.

“We’re in a pandemic now,” Barnes said. “It wasn’t something that could be swept underneath the rug, there was no other news cycle going on, this was the news. … Seeing that video of George Floyd, reading the story of Breonna Taylor, the video of Ahmaud Arberry, all of the different things that have happened recently, then you get the former names in the past, Atatiana Jefferson, Botham Jean, Trayvon Martin—all of these stories, the verdicts, they all come back every single time, like you are living the same experience so with this pandemic, with the quarantine and everything, that has allowed this to really take hold.”

It has taken hold in the NBA and it probably is not letting go. Barnes is encouraged by that, by what he sees among young people out in the country and by younger players in the league. He just hopes there is enough patience and determination to stick with the cause until results can be shown

“Change is very slow, it takes time,” Barnes said. “But having that momentum is important and having people become more vocal not only about what they’re frustrated about but also the change they want to see is important.”

Source: Forbes – Business

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