By KYLE ITO and TAYMOUR MOWAFAK
Following protests across the nation, the Los Angeles Lakers wore “I Can’t Breathe” shirts at the Staples Center before Tuesday night’s game on December 9 against the Sacramento Kings, showing the team’s support for the protesters following the Eric Garner decision. “I can’t breathe” were Garner’s final words before being killed in an illegal chokehold by a New York police officer in July. Every player on the Lakers team wore the shirt except for player Robert Sacre.
In Kobe Bryant’s post-game interview with ESPN, he said, “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.” Several other National Basketball Association (NBA) players have joined the silent protest. On Monday, December 8, Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose also wore an “I Can’t Breathe” shirt, along with members of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Brooklyn Nets. LeBron James, who wore the same shirt, said to reporters after the game, “As a society we know we have to do better, but it’s not going to be done in one day.”
Former Lakers player Magic Johnson said, “I’m happy that they’re all vocal and socially conscious,” at the Sports Illustrated‘s 2014 Sportsman of the Year event in New York. “It’s important, because they have such a big voice and people follow them. This goes back in history. This didn’t just start yesterday”.
The NBA’s official apparel provider is Adidas, but the league says it will not fine any players for wearing unauthorized “I Can’t Breathe” shirts. In an email interview with Yahoo! Sports, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said, “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.”
Apart from the NBA, college basketball players have also voiced their opinions on the Garner decision. Moments before the highly anticipated basketball game between Georgetown and Kansas Georgetown took the court for warm-ups wearing the iconic T-shirts.
Georgetown’s guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera said, “It was quite a few families who lost a loved one this year with the Michael Brown case and Trayvon Martin also. We really wanted to represent those families that all lost someone. It wasn’t just this one scenario that a lot of people walked for that one case. I just thought that we (Georgetown basketball team) wanted to represent the families and send our condolences that way.”
Eric Garner’s daughter, Emerald Snipes-Garner, expressed her feelings to the media and said, “Usually, my dad (Eric Garner) was the person that I called when I didn’t have any help, so it’s funny that a lot of people want to help us now, because my Dad would do it. This makes me want to cry, because the support is tremendous. The fact that people want to help us, genuinely, really help us, without wanting anything in return is awesome, and overwhelming sometimes.”
The support of the basketball community has been an outlet for athletes to have their voices heard in the attention of the public. Vijay Sachet (Sr.) said, “It takes a lot of courage for athletes to proceed with such an action. These athletes did something very brave for society and it will never be forgotten.” Despite the fact that their actions have not changed the court decision, athletes have been able to unite people across racial and ethnic backgrounds in support of an ethical and judicial cause.
Many players in the National Football League (NFL) are also wearing “I Can’t Breathe” shirts and are showing their support not only for Eric Garner, but also Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin. Just one week after St. Louis Rams players came on to the field with their hands up symbolizing “don’t shoot,” many other NFL players wore gear covered with writing to demonstrate their support for Garner.
One of the many other players, Reggie Bush of the Detroit Lions, wore an “I Can’t Breathe” shirt during warm-ups before a game, inspiring other players across the league to follow by his example. Bush explained, “Honestly, I’ve always been the quiet kid. I’ve always been the one who’s reserved, to kind of sit back and not really get into politics and things like that. But I don’t know why I just felt some kind of…I guess the situation just touched me.”
Another player, Davin Joseph of the St. Louis Rams, wrote “I can’t breathe” on his cleats for warm-ups before the game against the Washington Redskins. Joseph, who holds a strong opinion on the court case, said, “I feel like we should support what we feel is right. We should always have an opinion of sticking up for people who don’t have a voice.” Jared Cook of the Rams wrote the phrase on his wrist tape, and his teammate, Kenny Britt, wrote the names of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin on his cleats.
It is refreshing to witness the support the athletes have for social issues outside of sports. Their opinions heavily influence others due to the players’ popularity and publicity. The actions of these athletes represent their efforts to have as positive of an influence on society as possible. Some argue that athletes are only paid to play a sport, not to express their political or moral views. We believe that players should indisputably have the ability to state what they think on any social issue, instead of remaining solely in the sports realm. These players deserve respect for standing beside what they believe in. Clearly, these athletes are only attempting to peacefully and respectfully voice their opinions on a matter that resulted in the death of a human being, Eric Garner.