Two days into the restart of the NBA, Orlando Magic forward Johnathan Isaac is the only player to refrain from kneeling during the national anthem, and abstain from wearing a t-shirt dawning “Black Lives Matter.” His reasoning is a valuable reminder to all that true progress doesn’t come from symbolic gestures, slogans, or from alienating those who choose to resist in alternate forms.
Before every NBA game since its Thursday restart, players and coaches from each team have united in solidarity before each game, as they have locked arms and knelt together during the national anthem to continue to protest police brutality and the unfair treatment of African Americans in this country. Isaac did not kneel with the rest of his teammates, or the rest of the NBA, as he publicly stood apart from the rest of his peers.
Without any context, it is easy for fans to be quick to criticize Isaac, and even to go as far as to question his where his loyalty lies. But Isaac’s teammates were the first to support him, as he revealed his plans to his teammates prior to the playing of the anthem. “We all support him,” Magic guard Evan Fournier said, and head coach Steve Clifford added, “we’re all supporting each other in this. And if guys are not comfortable kneeling and they want to stand, nobody has a problem with that. I support him. His teammates support him. The organization supports him. That’s part of living in our country.”
“Kneeling while wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt doesn’t go hand-in-hand with supporting Black lives,” Isaac said in response to his actions. “I don’t think that kneeling or putting on a T-shirt, for me personally, is the answer . . . We all sin and the answers to all of the world’s problems, not only racism, is the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Isaac has done a great deal of community service for the city of Orlando, and was awarded the Magic’s community service award last year. He has donated money to feed children affected by the coronavirus pandemic, led a Hurricane Dorian relief effort and has raised money to help organizations promote literacy for children in Central Florida.
Isaac also wasn’t the only prominent figure to take a literal stand during the national anthem; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, who is often outspoken on social issues, also chose to stand during the anthem yesterday, along with Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon (both chose to wear “Black Lives Matter” t-shirts). When asked about his decision, Popovich responded, “I’d prefer to keep that to myself. Everybody has to make a personal decision. The league’s been great about that; everybody has the freedom to react any way they want. For whatever reasons I have, I reacted the way I wanted to.”
In the highly divided political climate that exists in America today, it is easy for the actions of Isaac, Popovich or Hammon to upset and further drive people apart rather than together. However, understanding that other individuals may choose to show their support in alternate ways is paramount if society truly wishes to come together and change for the better. TNT analyst Charles Barkely voiced his concerns about individuals being slandered for choosing not to kneel during the anthem, stating “the national anthem means different things to different people. I’m glad these guys are all unified. But if people don’t kneel, they’re not a bad person. I want to make that perfectly clear. … He should not be vilified.”
As the NBA continues to offer fans an escape from the stresses and concerns of life in 2020, the NBA will continue to put social justice on the forefront. And while most players and fans will show their support using the guidelines the NBA has provided, some will choose alternative paths of resistance that may not seem to conform with what the rest of the league is doing. As fans, it is important for us to not lose our cool and express frustrations and criticisms toward those like Isaac. To paraphrase ESPN analyst Jay Williams, the answer to extremism isn’t more extremism; true equality won’t be achieved with a failure to understand the actions of others, but rather through a mutual respect and understanding that there are multiple ways to show one’s support.