The NBA and its players are trying to finish off their season while the coronavirus pandemic is still ongoing.
Adding to that, issues surrounding social injustice and racial inequality are still permeating around the country. Players are searching for ways to use their platform to make sure these issues are still at the forefront while basketball is being played.
One way the NBA is giving the players the opportunity to do so is by having messages on the back of their jerseys instead of last names. They can choose from a list of 29 phrases approved by the league and NBPA.
While only six Sixers are choosing to participate, Matisse Thybulle (“Vote”) and Josh Richardson (“Say Their Names”) had powerful explanations for their choices.
“My dad was born and raised in Haiti and as he grew up out there, they had a dictator,” Thybulle said in a video conference with reporters Thursday. “And that’s not something many people in the U.S. are aware of or understand the reality of. So to be raised with that perspective and to understand and appreciate what it means to have a vote and to be a part of a democracy where your opinion matters, it’s taken for granted, I think, a lot. It’s something I’m passionate about, my family is passionate about and I think a lot of other players are as well.”
For Thybulle, it’s about making sure people – especially young people – understand the importance of voting.
“Just trying to educate people,” Thybulle said. “I think back to being a kid, the only education I really had on voting was like ‘Schoolhouse Rock.’ And how many of us still remember those songs? It’s not something that’s spoken about enough. Like I said earlier, this platform is huge for us to have the availability to bring light back to it. And hopefully we can get as many eyes and ears to see and listen and make some change.”
The recent deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have brought attention to issues of racial inequality and police brutality perhaps more than ever before. We’ve already seen Tobias Harris, Mike Scott and several other NBA players use their time with the media to call for Kentucky attorney general Daniel Cameron to arrest officers Myles Cosgrove, Brett Hankison and Jon Mattingly in the wake of Taylor’s death.
Richardson is hoping his message will keep the names of Floyd, Taylor and so many others in the public consciousness when the Sixers return to the floor.
“I chose ‘Say Their Names’ just because there’s so many instances of things that have happened,” Richardson said, “and I’m just trying to be a vessel for this movement that’s finally happening. You can go down the list – Breonna Taylor is at the forefront, George Floyd, Michael Brown. On a smaller scale, where I’m from, a kid named Isaiah Lewis was killed by police, unarmed. There’s too many instances of it happening. I’m just trying to keep raising awareness, keep being a vessel for what’s happening. Hopefully, people keep picking up on the message.”
Thybulle has gained recognition for his documenting of the NBA bubble. Each of his YouTube videos have either eclipsed or are just short of one million views.
He doesn’t take his extended reach lightly.
“Obviously the NBA is a massive platform and because of it, as players we’ve all been given these platforms where kids look up to us, people listen to us,” Thybulle said. “So to take this opportunity like you’ve seen a lot of other players doing, even just in these media sessions, to take the platform we have and this opportunity to spread a message we think is worth sharing and fight for is really important.”
The Sixers have spoken about what they’re looking to do to keep these message alive as a team. Brett Brown again Thursday hinted at a unified message from the team while also revealing that he wanted his players to read a New York Times article about the late congressman John Lewis, who was a champion for civil and voting rights.
Richardson is glad to see these conversations are still being had.
“I’m incredibly proud, because this is bigger than basketball,” Richardson said. “I know there are probably plenty of guys who were thinking about not even coming to this bubble because of everything that’s happening right now, me included. We’re here, we love basketball, we’re trying to win a championship, but at the same time, there’s a bigger thing going on that we’re all honestly here for. So I’m happy that it’s happening.”
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