Utah Jazz guard Kyle Korver, in a first-person piece published Monday on The Players’ Tribune, reflected on race relations in America and pondered his position as a white man playing in the NBA.
In the piece titled “Privileged,” Korver touched on a variety of race-related topics and shared his own experiences, citing a 2015 arrest of a teammate and a racial incident last month involving Thunder star Russell Westbrook and a fan in Utah.
“There’s an elephant in the room that I’ve been thinking about a lot over these last few weeks,” Korver wrote. “It’s the fact that, demographically, if we’re being honest: I have more in common with the fans in the crowd at your average NBA game than I have with the players on the court.”
Korver mentioned his “privilege” on multiple occasions in the piece, writing that, as a white man, he has the option to engage or disengage in the fight against racism.
“What I’m realizing is, no matter how passionately I commit to being an ally, and no matter how unwavering my support is for NBA and WNBA players of color … I’m still in this conversation from the privileged perspective of opting in to it,” he wrote. “Which of course means that on the flip side, I could just as easily opt out of it. Every day, I’m given that choice — I’m granted that privilege — based on the color of my skin.”
LeBron James, a former teammate of Korver, praised the piece on Twitter.
Korver, 38, is about to complete his 16th season in the NBA. He was a member of the Atlanta Hawks in 2015 when teammate Thabo Sefolosha was arrested in New York for allegedly interfering with a crime scene.
Sefolosha suffered season-ending leg injuries during his arrest and, later that year, was found not guilty on all three misdemeanor charges stemming from the incident.
Korver wrote that he was “embarrassed” by his initial reaction in 2015 to learning about Sefolosha’s arrest, saying that his “first thought was: ‘What was Thabo doing out at a club on a back-to-back?'”
“Before I knew the full story, and before I’d even had the chance to talk to Thabo … I sort of blamed Thabo,” Korver wrote.
Korver also recounted his role in the Jazz’s team discussion about the March 11 incident at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, where Westbrook shouted, “I’ll f— you up” to Jazz fan Shane Keisel in response to Keisel telling him, “Get on your knees like you’re used to.”
Westbrook, who considered the comment “completely disrespectful” and “racial,” was fined $25,000 by the NBA. Keisel was permanently banned from the arena.
Korver said the “incident struck a nerve with our team,” prompting a closed-door meeting the next day with Jazz president Steve Starks.
“This wasn’t the first time they’d taken part in conversations about race in their NBA careers, and it wasn’t the first time they’d had to address the hateful actions of others,” Korver wrote. “And one big thing that got brought up a lot in the meeting was how incidents like this — they weren’t only about the people directly involved. This wasn’t only about Russ and some heckler. It was about more than that.
“It was about what it means just to exist right now — as a person of color in a mostly white space.
“It was about racism in America.”
Korver also discussed his own feelings of guilt and responsibility and listed several ways that he, as a white player in the NBA, can help deal with forms of racism.
“I know that, as a white man, I have to hold my fellow white men accountable,” Korver wrote. “We all have to hold each other accountable.
“And we all have to be accountable — period. Not just for our own actions, but also for the ways that our inaction can create a ‘safe’ space for toxic behavior.”
Kyle Korver confronts racism, white privilege in a must-read essay
Hemal Jhaveri | USA TODAY SPORTS
Racism in this country is a hard thing to talk about, a difficult topic that many people would like avoid, but Utah Jazz guard Kyle Korver confronted race and his own white privilege in a powerful essay for The Players’ Tribune.
Simply titled “Privileged“, the essay is a straightforward acknowledgement of the space Korver occupies not only in a league that’s over 75% black, but in a world where inequality seems to be woven into the fabric of the nation. The statements are a bold, unflinching look into a mirror, that strips away performative inclusion to dig into the real work of being an ally…
He goes on to say that white people may not be guilty for the sins of their forefathers, but they certainly bare the responsibility.
“It’s about understanding on a fundamental level that black people and white people, they still have it different in America. And that those differences come from an ugly history….. not some random divide,” he wrote.
There’s a tendency, among fans and in the media, to heap undue praise on white men for often doing the bare minimum, but Korver’s essay deserves to be acknowledged for what it is, an attempt to hold himself and other white athletes accountable for their behavior.
“I have to continue to educate myself on the history of racism in America,” he wrote. “I have to listen. I’ll say it again, because it’s that important. I have to listen.”
You can read the entire essay here. It is very much worth your time.