Separation Between Church and Basketball

(Photo Credit: CNN)

Earlier today during the second day of the NBA restart, an Orlando Magic player named Jonathan Isaac made international headlines. Isaac chose to opt out of wearing a ‘Black Lives Matter’ t-shirt, as well as kneel for the national anthem. He is the only NBA player to do so thus far. At a press conference, Bleacher Report journalist Taylor Rooks gave him the opportunity to clarify on whether he supported the message or the movement. He replied:

“Absolutely, I believe in Black lives matter… but kneeling and wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt don’t go hand in hand with supporting Black lives.”

Now at first I was thinking that he would take it from a capitalist lens, to which I could understand. Support the movement, don’t profit from it. But unfortunately that is not what happened. Isaac went on to say a bit more:

“my life has been supported by The Gospel, Jesus Christ, and that everyone is made through the image of God. Everyday each and everyone of us does bad things that we don’t want to do, or say things that they don’t wanna say.”

While I can understand his frame of reference and point of view, it definitely falls short. Firstly, Jesus lived a human life in solidarity with those on the margins, the people often disenfranchised from his society. While Jesus is about forgiveness, he also spoke against injustice. Were he around today, he most likely would not approve of the treatment of Black Americans both historically and in modern times.

Jesus would also support and empathize with Colin Kaepernick. Why? Simple: Colin Kaepernick’s movement was about American injustice particularly against African Americans, and other marginalized groups. He lost his job for kneeling. Jonathan Isaac probably wouldn’t even be able to take this sort of stance, had this global sports political movement not began with Colin Kaepernick. Just like Muhammad Ali and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf walked so Kaepernick could run, Kapernick indirectly gave Jonathan Isaac an opportunity to make a name for himself in this moment. No Kaepernick, this wouldn’t even be a thing.

As someone who grew up Christian, many times I have seen the name of Jesus used for political gain. Those political agendas often wash away the wrongs of others, eliminating accountability. Since Jonathan Isaac spoke up hours ago, all his Twitter posts have been flooded with MAGA hat wearin’ conservatives looking for any crack to shatter, or invalidate our movement. I saw memes comparing him to the picture of the German man who would not salute Hitler (See Here CW/TW: The Third Reich). This is what I mean by him not realizing the power of his choice.

Jesus was wrongfully executed by the Roman Empire. In human form he had more in common with George Floyd or Breonna Taylor who were also wronfully killed by government officials. While Jonathan Isaac felt his intentions were pure, they were not harmless. Many Black Americans on social media have already expressed their disapproval. I am writing this essay, as one of those Black Americans.

Jonathan Isaac is about to get a lesson on the power of celebrity. Tomorrow there should be quite a bit more of a national reaction on the various sports media networks, as well as traditional news. Did we not just drag Drew Brees last month for saying he wouldn’t agree with anyone who disrespected the flag? That was only 58 days ago by the way. Fifty eight. So no, I won’t be giving Jonathan Isaac a pass. 8:46. Eight minutes and forty six seconds. I can forgive someone who hurt my feelings. I can forgive a microaggression, depending on the brevity and my relationship with that person. Eight minutes and forty six seconds isn’t in my forgiveness column. Not without justice.

Right now we need a united front. Not every Black American is a Christian. Black American Muslims see Jesus as a prophet, sure. But what about the rest of Black America? What about the country as a whole? How can they empathize or connect with this point of view? It’s divisive. It could also sway someone who is on the fence about Black Liberation (yes, it’s a proper noun).

Even if we were to take this forgiveness approach Jonathan Isaac is pushing, I am a bit exhausted when it comes to forgiveness. You cannot forgive without healing. You cannot heal without justice. Black Americans have been exhibiting forgiveness and patience since the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, which out dates the American Revolution. To co-opt the one time it finally feels like change can happen, right after Congressman John Lewis’ passing feels wrong.

Ultimately, this is a political issue rooted in morality. I would feel the same way if someone’s justification for kneeling is religious. While that is wonderful, this is not about your faith. This is about using celebrity status and the international stage known as American sport to raise awareness on centuries of suffrage — enslavement, disenfranchisement, impoverishment, mass incarceration, and police brutality. We kneel, for the sake of a better world, for the sake of humanity. That’s what Jesus would do.

While many of the founding fathers were influenced and inspired by Judeo-Christian principles, one thing they did get right was to keep religion out of politics. Since this is a political issue on a basketball stage, let’s extend that same courtesy.

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Chris L. Butler

Black American & Dutch writer living in Canada. Author of 2 chapbooks: ‘Sacrilegious’ and ‘BLERD: ’80s BABY, ’90s KID’. 🇺🇸🇳🇱🇨🇦