Numerous athletes have spoken out over the past year or two on various political and social issues, but few have done so as impressively as Boston Celtics wing Jaylen Brown.
In a fascinating interview with The Guardian published Tuesday, the 21-year-old Brown dropped knowledge on racism, class struggle, Colin Kaepernick, Donald Trump and the role sports play in society. The most compelling portion of Brown’s comments concerned the way America functions like a rigged sporting event, to the detriment of the “losers.”
In his year at college, before pausing his degree to play in the NBA, Brown wrote a thesis about how institutionalised sport impacts on education. “I was super emotional reading about it,” he says of his chosen subject. “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. 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 neighbourhood 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?”
Brown also spoke on Donald Trump — whom he called “unfit to lead,” citing the president’s “ridiculous” feud with LaVar Ball — and Kaepernick — whom he said was being blackballed out of the NFL. In Brown’s view, backlash to Kaepernick’s protest exposed sports’ status as a “mechanism of control.”
“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?
“We’re having some of the same problems we had 50 years ago. Some things have changed a lot but other factors are deeply embedded in our society. It takes protests like Kaepernick’s to make people uncomfortable and aware of these hidden injustices. People are now a lot more aware, engaged and united in our culture. It takes a special person like Kaepernick to force these changes – because often reporters and fans say: ‘If you’re an athlete I don’t want you to say anything. You should be happy you’re making x amount of money playing sport. You should be saluting America instead of critiquing it.’ That’s our society.”
Overall, Brown is a wildly impressive dude. Aside from being a rising star for the Celtics, he plays piano, reads David Foster Wallace and teaches himself languages, most recently learning the Arabic alphabet. And did we mention he’s only 21? You know he’s doing something right because an NBA executive once worried he was “too smart” for the league.
Brown’s insights demonstrate once again that athletes have much more to offer than just dunks and touchdowns, and that we’re all better off when they speak their minds and share their experiences. You can read The Guardian‘s full piece on Brown right here.