David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

In candid interview, Jaylen Brown says sports are 'mechanism of control' to maintain social order

Alex Reimer
January 09, 2018 - 1:28 pm

Jaylen Brown’s commentary on race in America contradicts the shallow mindset that athletes should stick to sports. The 21-year-old forward’s analysis of today’s racial climate, and the role sports play in maintaining it, is complex and free of platitudes. It is worth listening to.

In a recent interview with the Guardian ahead of the Celtics' upcoming game in London Thursday, Brown discusses the racism he faced growing up in suburban Georgia and throughout his journey to the NBA. While he acknowledges it’s often more subtle now, the barriers of bigotry are still unbreakable for many African-Americans –– especially those who can’t shoot a basketball or throw a football.

“Racism definitely exists across America today,” he says. Of course it’s changed a lot –– and my opportunities are far greater than they would have been 50 years ago. So some people think racism has dissipated or no longer exists. But it’s hidden in more strategic places. You have less people coming to your face and telling you certain things. But (Donald) Trump has made it a lot more acceptable for racists to speak their minds.

Brown credits his racial awakening to his time at University of California Berkeley, where he studied during his freshman year. Before pausing his studies to enter the NBA Draft in 2016, Brown penned a thesis about how athletic ability often coincides with access to education, and how damaging that is to children from lower-income families. 

“There’s this idea of America that some people have to win and some have to lose so certain things are in place to make this happen,” he says. “Some people have to be the next legislators and political elites and some have to fill the prisons and work in McDonald’s. That’s how America works. It’s a machine which needs people up top, and people down low.

“Even though I’ve ended up in a great place, who is to say where I would’ve been without basketball? It makes me feel for my friends. And my little brothers or cousins have no idea how their social mobility is being shaped. I wish more and more that I can explain it to them. Just because I’m the outlier in my neighborhood who managed to avoid the barriers set up to keep the privileged in privilege, and the poor still poor, why should I forget about the people who didn’t have the same chance as me?”

That’s why Brown supported Colin Kaepernick’s decision to protest during the national anthem. Brown says Kaepernick rightfully made people uncomfortable, because that’s the way social change is achieved. Through losing his career, Kaepernick exposed how sports are used to preserve the unjust social order. It is the opiate of underprivileged minority communities. 

“I wasn’t shocked how it turned out,” Brown says. “Colin was trying to get back into the NFL and find another team and he’s more than capable. But I knew it was over. I knew they weren’t going to let him back. Nobody wanted the media attention or to take the risk. They probably just wanted to blackball him out of the league.

“That’s the reality because sports is a mechanism of control. If people didn’t have sports they would be a lot more disappointed with their role in society. There would be a lot more anger or stress about the injustice of poverty and hunger. Sports is a way to channel our energy into something positive. Without sports who knows what half of these kids would be doing?"

When it comes to Trump, the breaking point for Brown occurred when the president attacked LaVar Ball on Twitter not expressing proper appreciation after Trump helped free his son from prison in China. 

“He demanded a thank you,” Brown says of Trump. “It’s ridiculous. What happened to people doing things out of the generosity of their heart or because it was the right thing to do? There have been multiple situations where it’s been ridiculous but that one was like: ‘OK I’m done. I’m done listening to anything you have to say.’ A 19-year-old kid makes a mistake overseas and (Trump) demands an apology from his dad? I think Trump’s unfit to lead.”

The rest of the interview, in which Brown discusses his growth as a leader and recent death of his best friend, is well worth the read. Brown can veer off the sports script anytime. 

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