Oscar Robertson on Athlete Activism: ‘Where Are the White Athletes When This Is Happening’

Oscar Robertson
AP Photo/Al Behrman

NBA legend Oscar Robertson voiced his approval of players such as LeBron James for taking strong stands on social issues, at the NBA Awards ceremony Monday night. The Hall of Famer called on white players to speak out as well.

After accepting the NBA’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Robertson explained to reporters the impact that players have on social justice causes.

Robertson said:

‘I think that as people evolve, and things are changing so much in the world with social media and whatnot, these people are young people who have families,’ Robertson said. ‘They’ve seen some injustice in the streets or wherever it might be, it might be almost anywhere, and they’re stepping up. But the only thing that really bothers me is, where are the white athletes when this is happening?

‘This is not a black athlete problem. You see injustice in the world. It’s all around you. Just because LeBron steps out, I’m glad he does. I hope some other players — because this is what they believe — I mean, what do you want players to do? Shut up and dribble? I think it’s time for them to say what they want to say about life and about politics and things about the street and whatnot. And about education.

‘There are a lot of players donating money back into different colleges. But it seems that what we have today is a system where you don’t want players to say anything at all.’

Perhaps unbeknownst to Robertson, white players were well-represented among NFL protesters last year. The only player to protest in Major League Baseball — Bruce Maxwell — is biracial.

The question of why more white players in the NBA haven’t joined protests, is a bit more complicated. White players makeup a dramatically smaller percentage of the NBA, than they do of the NFL or MLB. According to a 2015 study, less than 24 percent of the league was white. Moreover, a huge percentage of white players are foreign born. The number of white American players has been steadily decreasing for years.

So why would a white player from Lithuania — who may not even speak English — decide to immerse himself in intensely controversial issues of which he has little, or no understanding?

There’s also an inherently disingenuous component to Robertson’s message. If a white player were to speak out in favor of social justice activism, presumably, he would be fine with it. However, if a white player were to speak out and say that he felt there was no problem with police brutality. Or, if he felt that athletes shouldn’t use their platform to speak out on politics, Robertson would likely not be fine with that.

So, what Robertson is essentially doing, is inviting white players who agree with him, to speak out. And those who don’t agree, well, they get the message as well.

Follow Dylan Gwinn on Twitter @themightygwinn

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