Saturday, May 12, 2018

Books: Former NBA Player Etan Thomas On Athlete Activism

We Matter: Athletes and Activism

By Etan Thomas

Akashic Books of Brooklyn, NY, 250 pages, $28.95

Former NBA player Etan Thomas, who was born in Harlem and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has been honored for his social justice advocacy as the recipient of the 2010 National Basketball Players Association Community Contribution Award.

Thomas also received the 2010 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Foundation Legacy Award.

With this background, Thomas has the gravitas to tackle this moment where athletes are speaking out on social justice issues mote than ever.

In We Matter, Thomas gives an in-depth and up-close look at today's landscape of high-profile activist athletes, including essays and interviews with top stars.

Thomas interviewed over fifty athletes, activists, media figures, and more, and weaves in his own essays and critiques on the current moment.

We Matter shares the personal stories and opinions of NBA legends like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, Alonso Mourning, and Chris Webber, Golden State Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, and current players such as John Wall, Jamal Crawford, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, and Joakim Noah.

Thomas also interviews people involved in professional football, whose players have battled with President Trump over their right to kneel during the national anthem to highlight civil rights issues. One of those players Thomas talks to is Eric Reid, who is currently alleging that NFL owners are keeping him and Colin Kaepernick out of the league for starting the anthem protest while with the San Francisco 49ers in 2016.

Thomas writes of one of his goals for We Matter, "I want younger athletes to read this book and be inspired. I want them to hear directly from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, NBA CEO Mark Cohan, and Washington Wizards CEO Ted Leonsis as they express their respect for the history of athlete activism and their appreciation for the current wave of young athletes using their voices. (Note that I generally avoid using the term owner, for obvious reasons; instead I usually go with CEO.) I want the to read about what the Los Angeles Clippers accomplished when they got Donald Sterling fired as CEO of the team after his racist tapes came out. I want them to read how the Missouri football team's announcement that they were going to boycott all football-related activities forced the university to take immediate action against President Tim Wolfe, who had been under fire from the student body for his refusal to address various racially charged incidents that had taken place on campus. I want them to read about the Oklahoma University football team who banded together for a silent protest over a racist frat video, resulting in the closing of the fraternity as a whole and the expulsion of two Sigma Alpha Epsilon students who were caught on video talking about lynchings and keeping African Americans out of the fraternity. I want them to read about how Thabo Sefolosha sued five NYPD officers for false arrest, excessive force, malicious prosecution, and false imprisonment after they broke his leg. I want them to hear the words of Russell Westbrook as he speaks out on behalf of the Crutcher family after Terence Crutcher was murdered. I want them to be inspired by hearing Carmelo Anthony discuss marching with the people of Baltimore after Freddie Gray was murdered...

"Throughout this book, I make multiple references to my son Malcolm's Amateur Athletics Union (AAU) team, the First Baptist of Glenarden Dynamic Disciples 13u, because it is important to start telling athletes from a young age about the tremendous amount of power they have. It is also important to teach them the value of accepting guidance from the older generations, and how advantageous it is to connect with and learn from activists and elders who have already been where they are about to go, a la Malcolm X mentoring Muhammad Ali and Dr. Harry Edwards mentoring Colin Kaepernick. Preparation is key. It has grown abundantly clear that we can't expect high schools, universities, or agents to properly prepare athletes for what they will face in society; how they will be treated differently; how much more will be expected of them; how to handle criticism which is sure to come their way (especially if they decide to utilize their voice and their platform); the importance of knowing their rights, their self-worth and the law; how not to be taken advantage of, whether by the NCAA, the NBA, agents, managers, or anyone else who doesn't value their greatness and wants to exploit them in any way they possibly can; and how to follow the financial models of people like LeBron James and Michael Jordan to create wealth and financial opportunities for their communities. I want this book to become required reading for all young athletes."

To further Thomas' aim, this book should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand the voice of the modern athlete.

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