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Raptors comment on athlete activism and protests at Media Day

At Media Day on Monday, several members of the Toronto Raptors organization were asked about the ongoing peaceful anthem protests, NBA players speaking out in response to the president and racial inequalities, and more. What follows are their comments. I’ll post video when they’re up so there’s additional context as to tone.

Masai Ujiri

On players using their voice:

I’m 110 percent behind our players. I can guarantee one thing: Nobody’s getting fired here. They have a platform. There’s nobody getting fired here. You can quote me. You can write that one. My views are my views and I support all the players and what they said. Divide is not good, in my opinion. So seeing tough places divided, especially with where I come from, it’s not a good thing. I support the players 100 percent.

On ways to make it better:

I’m not a politician. It’s a social issue that’s affecting everybody, and we’re going to speak up about the things that affect us in sports. I think the players have spoken up, I think the Commissioner issued out a statement, and I think it’s fair. It’s a great idea for, I think Bob Myers said they’re going to visit the African American Museum in February sometime. Maybe Obama will show up at the museum the same day or something.

On his reaction to Trump’s tweets:

My reaction is I like the players’ reaction. That was my reaction. I liked LeBron’s reaction, I liked Steph Curry’s reaction, I liked Kobe’s reaction, I liked Curry’s reaction. Because I think they stood up. They stood up for our league. The NBA is the most prominent league now in the world, and these guys stand up and they speak. We that have platforms have to stand up and speak on these issues. I think Canada is a blessing

On being a Canadian team:

A blessing. We’ve always said, there’s something about this place, there’s something about this country that’s special. There’s plenty of things about America that’s special. We’re in a league that plays, in the NBA, and for me we are a big part of it. We want to feel a big part of it. We have players that are Americans and we have to support them 100 percent. When we win a championship we’ll deal with that issue, you know. We’ll deal with that issue. We’ll talk to, I think we’d get to go to two White Houses, right? If we win a championship, hopefully, one day. I think we’ll be fine with Trudeau.

On his advice to players if they want to be advocates:

Speak your mind. That’s what I tell them: Do your homework, know what you’re talking about, and if you’ve done that, and this is something you feel strongly about or affects you in any way – it affects all of us, and that’s the truth, it does affect all of us – speak your mind. Nobody is holding anybody back here. That’s, to me, these issues are serious. Sports bring people together, it’s not supposed to divide people, it’s supposed to bring people together, and our players know that.

Dwane Casey

On athletes protesting:

I talked to so many people yesterday about that and it’s unfortunate that people can even question whether an athlete should have first amendment rights, and coming from our president it’s hurtful. It’s almost like, even though players make a lot of money they’re still people, they’re the best at their profession. That’s what the U.S. was built on, protest. I came through the ’60s and ’70s and it’s eerily getting back to that if we’re not careful. And that’s why we want to take away the divisive words and let’s be inclusive. Whether you’re Canadian, Mexican, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. Let’s be together. We breathe the same air, we’re here. But to say that athletes don’t have a right to protest — whatever they want to protest now, that’s a slippery slope, too. You’ve gotta make sure you’re informed, you’ve gotta make sure you’re standing for something. But, believe me, I’ve seen every form of racial injustice there is to see and everywhere from a nice place to a bad place. But again, it’s so much better than it was in the ’60s and ’70s it’s not even funny so let’s not go back to that. I applaud the NFL players, the owners that were out there standing together in unity. It’s not disrespecting the flag whatsoever. That’s what I told our players. You have the right to the first amendment but don’t disrespect the country, the flag, even the office of the president. Even though you may not agree with him, he’s still our president. But, that said, you have a first-amendment right for whatever you want to speak up about and that’s what North America was built on, is built on and let’s not lose that.

On the NBA in particular speaking out:

That’s the thing about it. Guys like Bill Russell and Muhammad Ali they built their lives and careers on that and I think it’s a great thing that the players stepped up for Golden State. Adam Silver, Adam talked to us last week at the coaches meeting about having players having an opportunity to be able to speak and have their first-amendment rights and he encourages that. That says a lot about Adam, that says a lot about our league, that says a lot about pro sports, in general. Again, it hurts because most players, the majority of players are minorities and it’s almost like you have a right to entertain us but you don’t have a right to be able to speak up about something. And that hurts me because I’ve come through that, I’ve come through segregation. And it’s scary to see the perceptions.

Are there lessons here?

Well, all of them. I think these are great lessons for young kids. My kids watch television, they saw the unity, they saw the players come together. I preached to my kids you don’t disrespect the flag, you don’t disrespect the country, the office of the presidency, it stands for something. You respect authority, you respect the work that the policemen do in life but if you feel strongly about something you have the right to speak up about it and I think that’s the example that you’re setting not only for us but for young kids, also. They’re sitting back watching sports and sports is a great vehicle of making sure we show inclusion and not being divisive.

On whether the Raptors may do something to protest:

No, we did not discuss that. And not to be a smart Alec, I wouldn’t announce it. Again, it’s the players’ right or their decision to do that if they want to do that. I’m not in a position to tell them not to exercise their first-amendment right.

Kyle Lowry

On athletes responding to Trump, and speaking out in general:

I love it. I know it’s a big topic. I know sports athletes, male, female, we all have one of the biggest platforms and we have a positive platforms. I think yesterday with the NFL, the players did it and it just shows how we are as athletes. We’re all together We have a small fraternity. We all are on the same page. We all want social injustice to be corrected, we want everyone to understand that. We aren’t just athletes. I’m a man at the end of the day. I did go to college. I did do this, I read, I can read, write. I think everyone in this league, in both leagues and as athletes can do that.

People say, ‘stay in your lane,’ but our lane as human beings is to be human beings, is to be citizens of this great earth, the great United States. Personally, I know we’re in Canada, but I think as athletes, we are citizens first. We are human beings first. We are fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, we are everything and I think that’s our right to show that we are who we are. This is a crazy subject, I could go on and on about it. LeBron stepping up and saying what he did is amazing. Chris Paul, Steph, the owners, and the NFL backing them. Adam Silver, it’s amazing how our great group of individuals, that we have a positive impact on everything. We’re coming together, we’re a really strong unit.

On the political climate, and sticking to sports:

I think my fellow athletes said it well. I think it’s unfortunate that someone that’s the leader of the most dominant country in the world is calling men SOBs, I think that’s unfortunate. That’s just sad. To go on a twitter rant, to be focusing on smaller things, smaller topics, kneeling players, other things that’s going on and not focusing on the social injustices that are going on is bad. It’s really bad. You wake up every day like, ‘alright what’s next?’ That’s not the way you want to wake up. You want to wake up like ‘let’s have a great day.’ Even this morning, you’re like, ‘come on, man.’ It’s like my six-year-old. Why? You should be the leader of the free world. You were voted to be the leader of the free world, to make the world better, the United States of America better. Why not do that?

We are human beings first. The people that are saying we should just be athletes, they bleed just like us. So why would we just stick to being athletes. We just happen to be very good at that. Why would we just tell them to sticking to just being a person? I’m very talented and very blessed to be able to play in the NBA. It doesn’t mean I’m not sophisticated enough to have a conversation about political situations, or what’s going on in the world, or what’s happening, social injustices, police brutality and all of that.

On whether the Raptors will protest in any way:

We haven’t had that conversation yet. One thing about our league, whatever we decide to do, our league will support us. It’s amazing to see all those guys standing, holding arms, kneeling. I think it was a positive impact.

DeMar DeRozan

On NFL protests:

For sure, I’m all for anything that’s right. A lot of them NFL players are doing a heckuva job standing up for what they believe in. It’s great to see all them guys sticking together. Us, as athletes, even though we’re not in the same sport as them but we can help do the same thing as far as spreading positivity, learning, trying to make a change. It starts on us because we have a voice, we could spread so much as a whole as long as we stick together. I’m definitely going to play a part in it, I’m all for it, without a doubt.

On kneeling in particular, and what the Raptors may do:

There are many ways you can go about it, it’s not just a kneel, it’s speaking up, it’s helping, talking, there are so many other things you can do. It’s not just a kneel, I think the kneel started an opening for so many other things we could be able to do by speaking up, by using our platform individually and as a whole. Like I said, I’m pretty sure as a team we’re going to talk about it, figure out something we could do to help shed light on what’s going on in the world, especially in America. Kneeling may not be the exact thing we do but it’s going to be something that shows all of us sticking together through this whole process.

On NBA players reacting to Trump:

I think the President brought a lot of this stuff on himself. He brought it on himself, he brought in on the country when it comes to Americans. It’s something where he’s gotta look in the mirror after making all these statements, saying all these crazy things about guys that’s trying to do the right thing, stand up for what’s right. I feel no player is trying to disrespect nobody, no flag, or anything like that, but we seem to be the ones to get all the disrespect from our so-called leader. It sucks when you see that. Especially when you have kids that you wanna raise in a country that’s supposed to be the greatest country in the world. But you’ve got your president on twitter more than a 12-year-old saying the most outrageous things for people who’s trying to do something right. It’s crazy.

On whether protests should be about police brutality or something else (it was kind of an odd Q):

Everything that’s going on in the world. That’s what it’s all about. I’ve done had friends killed by police officers a couple days after just being at my house. When I was young, and even recently. And it sucks, because vene myself, you can drive a nice car and I’m still being questioned: How’d you get this car? Do you do this? Do you do that? And it’s not fair. At the end of the day, because I always think about, what about, I have my kids in my car. You see all these incidents with things happen on the internet, officers doing things to people and it’s caught on camera, and they still have no repercussions. They still get up the next day like it’s just another day. Things like that, it sucks.

On how growing up in LA shapes his perspective:

For sure. For sure. Without a doubt. Without a doubt. It kinda hits home for me in a sense because I grew up extremely tough. I never try to glamorize the way I came up. I always try to be the positive person, no matter what. I never try to dwell on all the negative things. I’m pretty sure you guys see me, I’m the most happiest person when it comes to talking. So that’s one thing I try to spread. It’s all about positivity. Once we put that energy out there, it’ll be easier for us to make the changes we need to make. And that’s the route a lot of us are definitely trying to take.

On the perception of the LAPD when he was a kid:

I could go on for days with that. It was tough when it came to the police, seeing them, not wanting to look ’em in the eye ’cause you didn’t wanna get questioned, you see him and you go in the house. It’s the way we grew up, to where it became we were hiding or running from something, even if you didn’t do anything, just because you didn’t wanna get hassled or get harassed for something you didn’t do. It’s crazy, when I think about it. I had a conversation with my cousin last night, even when we was younger, police are saying you look like somebody just to say you look like somebody else to try to make an arrest or something. We were just kids trying to get to school or get to the candy house or do something like that. To see 15 years later, me being an adult and seeing it transpire, this is definitely crazy.

On this all going on, from a father’s perspective:

Even now, what I try to stress to my kids, is having respect for yourself and for others, no matter who it is. Once you have that respect, you give it as well as you want it received back, you’ll be in a positive place. Carry yourself in that manner. Once you bring disrespect to anybody, it’s gonna be an ugly environment. And you see it from our president with all the disrespect that he’s put out to whoever it may be, women, men, athletes, whoever it may be. It’s crazy.

I’ve intentionally left any editorializing out of this post. While I am not naive enough to think it won’t spark conversation in the comments, I implore you to please be respectful of each other, should you feel the need to engage in (this important and, hopefully, constructive) conversation.

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