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Learning from the eyes of the weary

We must be better.

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Oklahoma City Thunder v Houston Rockets - Game Five Photo by Kim Klement - Pool/Getty Images

When did you realize the America you were raised in was a myth - that the pursuit of the “more perfect union” was much further off than you ever imagined? How old were you when you better understood that the color of your skin had a direct impact on your ability to simply walk past a police officer without having to worry about what they would say to you? At what point did you realize that all the stories you heard from people of color, all the sadness, all the anger, couldn’t possibly all be made up?

For me? It’s when I saw their eyes for the first time as a teenager whenever there was a person bringing up what had happened to them in their lives. And I have seen those same eyes often the last few days from various members of the NBA community.

Systemic racism forces those of us that are white to reflect on the advantages we have simply because of the color of our skin. That is hard to accept at times - we all have burdens, hills we have had to climb to get to where we are in our lives. Some are taller and more full of obstacles than others. Between those difficult times and the illusion of America being “the land of the free”, it can be difficult to understand that even with all the hardships, you had it better than any black person in the United States.

Still don’t believe it? See it in the eyes of the NBA coaches and players who have spoken out in the wake of another black person being shot by the police.

So many have taken a stand - the boycott of games Wednesday is the next step toward the needed social change these men (and women of the WNBA) are seeking. Other sports are taking similar steps - Major League Baseball also had several games postponed/canceled. Countless people have used their voices, and the NBA has used their platform, to try to inspire change.

But for me now, as they were roughly 20 years ago, the eyes of Doc Rivers above speak louder than any words - even the powerful statement of loving a country that does not love them back.

The Memphis Grizzlies organization has done a remarkable job within their mission of bettering their community and educating about racial issues. In the Orlando Bubble, where Black Lives Matter is painted on the courts, Head Coach Taylor Jenkins spent time speaking of the history of racial injustice in our country and the team wore shirts showing their support of pursuing justice for Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was killed by police. Other franchises have done the same, using the platform that national television and professional sports provides to try to keep the movement at the forefront.

And yet, Jacob Blake still was shot seven times in the back with his children in the car while a white person (who later was arrested for actually shooting and killing people) walked by police officers with a long gun without a concern for his well being at that time. That young man went home, while Jacob Blake is in a hospital bed paralyzed according to his father. And these athletes of the NBA and WNBA that we see as modern day titans see their dads and moms, uncles and aunts, their children...themselves...in the videos and photos from Wisconsin, Minnesota, and elsewhere across this country.

It is important to hear and listen to the stories and learn from the words that are spoken by those that have to figure out how to tell their children to interact with police officers so they are safe. But beyond that, even if in these polarizing times, look beyond those sorrowful sounds and simply look in the eyes of weary men and women hoping for a change that hasn’t come. See the exhaustion in their faces - the sadness in knowing that the way I was raised to believe in America doesn’t apply to them...and never really has.

There are great heroes in American history. People that stood up to oppression on foreign battlefields and on bridges in Selma, Alabama. The ideal of what this land can be is why people still come to its shores, and why so many fight so passionately for making this union more perfect by just acknowledging that a Black life matters just as much as any other.

But we must do more than just hear and listen. We have to actually see this country for what it actually is, instead of what it can be, and build toward the dream that is far from realized. If we do this with empathy, through the eyes of those that have been oppressed by the systemic racism that helped build this nation, and act to reform policing systems and help to restore voting rights to begin with? We can truly say that pursuit of a more perfect union is occurring. And hope can come from that for a future that will be better for our children.

All of our children.

The end of police brutality and systemic racism won’t come from boycotting basketball games. But the historic act of not playing will bring more eyes to the eyes of those who have seen, and endured, just how far we as a country have to go.

For more Grizzlies talk, subscribe to the Grizzly Bear Blues podcast network on Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, and IHeart. Follow Grizzly Bear Blues on Twitter and Instagram.