NBA’s social justice coalition meets with Pope Francis at Vatican

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Pope Francis met with five members of the NBA‘s newly formed National Basketball Social Justice Coalition at the Vatican on Monday to discuss issues related to equality. 

San Antonio Spurs guard Marco Belinelli, Sterling Brown of the Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac, Kyle Korver of the Milwaukee Bucks and Memphis Grizzlies power forward Anthony Tolliver were joined by NBA players’ union executive director Michele Roberts and two other union executives — Sherrie Deans and Matteo Zuretti.

‘You’re champions,’ Pope Francis told the players, as quoted by ESPN. ‘But also giving the example of teamwork, you’ve become a model, giving that good example of teamwork but always remaining humble … and preserving your own humanity.’ 

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Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac shares a jersey and other keepsakes with Pope Francis

Pope Francis (in white) meets a delegation of five NBA players, including Jonathan Isaac (far right) and Sterling Brown (second from right) and officials from the National Basketball Players Association at the Vatican November 23

Pope Francis (in white) meets a delegation of five NBA players, including Jonathan Isaac (far right) and Sterling Brown (second from right) and officials from the National Basketball Players Association at the Vatican November 23

Pope Francis (in white) meets a delegation of five NBA players, including Jonathan Isaac (far right) and Sterling Brown (second from right) and officials from the National Basketball Players Association at the Vatican November 23

Pope Francis receives a golden basketball from Memphis Grizzlies forward Andrew Tolliver

Pope Francis receives a golden basketball from Memphis Grizzlies forward Andrew Tolliver

Pope Francis receives a golden basketball from Memphis Grizzlies forward Andrew Tolliver

Pope Francis (in white) has supported demands for social justice following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25

Pope Francis (in white) has supported demands for social justice following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25

Pope Francis (in white) has supported demands for social justice following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25

Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac (left) and Milwaukee's Sterling Brown at the Vatican

Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac (left) and Milwaukee's Sterling Brown at the Vatican

Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac (left) and Milwaukee’s Sterling Brown at the Vatican 

Michele Roberts (left, at the mic), the NBPA executive director, addresses Pope Francis

Michele Roberts (left, at the mic), the NBPA executive director, addresses Pope Francis

Michele Roberts (left, at the mic), the NBPA executive director, addresses Pope Francis

Players reacted to the meeting in a NBPA press release.

‘We are extremely honored to have had this opportunity to come to the Vatican and share our experiences with Pope Francis,’ Korver said. ‘His openness and eagerness to discuss these issues was inspiring and a reminder that our work has had a global impact and must continue moving forward.’ 

The union said the players spoke about their ‘individual and collective efforts addressing social and economic injustice and inequality occurring in their communities.’

The audience came days before a book comes out in which Pope Francis supports demands for racial justice, specifically the actions taken following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, a black man who died in May. A police officer in Minneapolis pressed a knee against his neck for minutes while Floyd said he couldn’t breathe and pleaded for his life. 

Roberts said Pope Francis sought the meeting with the players, and that it ‘demonstrates the influence of their platforms.’ Demands for social and racial justice have been paramount among players, especially in recent months following the deaths of Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among others.

‘This meeting validates the power of our Players’ voices,’ Roberts said. ‘That one of the most influential leaders in the world sought to have a conversation with them demonstrates the influence of their platforms. I remain inspired by our Players’ continued commitment to serve and support our community.’

All players and NBPA staff were tested for COVID-19 before meeting with Pope Francis

All players and NBPA staff were tested for COVID-19 before meeting with Pope Francis

All players and NBPA staff were tested for COVID-19 before meeting with Pope Francis

Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac (center), who was one of only a few players to stand for the national anthem in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, was at the Vatican on Monday to discuss social justice issues with Pope Francis

Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac (center), who was one of only a few players to stand for the national anthem in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, was at the Vatican on Monday to discuss social justice issues with Pope Francis

Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac (center), who was one of only a few players to stand for the national anthem in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, was at the Vatican on Monday to discuss social justice issues with Pope Francis

After the NBA restarted its season with 22 teams at Disney World following a four-month COVID-19 hiatus, many league players began protesting racism and police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem before games. To drive home the point, players also wore ‘Black Lives Matter’ warm-up shirts and had social justice messages emblazoned on the backs of their jerseys. 

One exception was Isaac, who defended his decision in August, before suffering a knee injury that is expected to keep him out of the upcoming 2020-21 season. 

Pope Francis is supporting demands for racial justice following the police killing of George Floyd. Francis slammed COVID skeptics and media organizations that spread their conspiracies in a new book penned during the Vatican's coronavirus lockdown. In 'Let Us Dream,' Francis also criticizes populist politicians who whip up rallies in ways reminiscent of the 1930s, and the hypocrisy of 'rigid' conservative Catholics who support them

Pope Francis is supporting demands for racial justice following the police killing of George Floyd. Francis slammed COVID skeptics and media organizations that spread their conspiracies in a new book penned during the Vatican's coronavirus lockdown. In 'Let Us Dream,' Francis also criticizes populist politicians who whip up rallies in ways reminiscent of the 1930s, and the hypocrisy of 'rigid' conservative Catholics who support them

Pope Francis is supporting demands for racial justice following the police killing of George Floyd. Francis slammed COVID-19 skeptics and media that spread their conspiracies in a new book penned during the Vatican’s coronavirus lockdown. In ‘Let Us Dream,’ Francis also criticizes populist politicians who whip up rallies in ways reminiscent of the 1930s, and the hypocrisy of ‘rigid’ conservative Catholics who support them

‘I believe that black lives matter,’ he said afterwards, as quoted by Kristian Winfield of the New York Daily News. ‘Kneeling while wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt doesn’t go hand-in-hand with supporting Black lives.’ 

The social justice coalition was created to lead efforts promoting equality. It remains unclear what the coalition’s role will be during the upcoming season, which begins on December 22, but according to Tolliver, the group expects to have the Pope’s support.  

‘Today’s meeting was an incredible experience,’ Tolliver said. ‘With the Pope’s support and blessing, we are excited to head into this next season reinvigorated to keep pushing for change and bringing our communities together.’

Pope Francis blasts COVID-19 skeptics and media organizations that spread their conspiracies in a new book penned during the Vatican’s coronavirus lockdown.

In ‘Let Us Dream,’ Francis also criticizes populist politicians who whip up rallies in ways reminiscent of the 1930s, and the hypocrisy of ‘rigid’ conservative Catholics who support them.

He does not name Donald Trump, but the comparison is unmistakable.

But he also criticizes the forceful downing of historic statues during protests for racial equality this year as a misguided attempt to ‘purify the past.’

The 150-page book, due out December 1, was ghost-written by Francis’ English-language biographer, Austen Ivereigh.

Kyle Korver (center) and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks are pictured after the team boycotted a game in response to the Kenosha, Wisconsin police shooting of Jacob Blake

Kyle Korver (center) and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks are pictured after the team boycotted a game in response to the Kenosha, Wisconsin police shooting of Jacob Blake

Kyle Korver (center) and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks are pictured after the team boycotted a game in response to the Kenosha, Wisconsin police shooting of Jacob Blake

At its core, ‘Let Us Dream’ aims to outline Francis’ vision of a more economically and environmentally just post-coronavirus world where the poor, the elderly and weak aren’t left on the margins and the wealthy aren’t consumed only with profits.

But it also offers new personal insights into the 83-year-old Argentine pope and his sense of humor.

Without identifying the U.S. or Trump by name, Francis singles out Christian-majority countries where nationalist-populist leaders seek to defend Christianity from perceived enemies.

The Bucks' Sterling Brown is among the players on the NBA's social justice coalition

The Bucks' Sterling Brown is among the players on the NBA's social justice coalition

The Bucks’ Sterling Brown is among the players on the NBA’s social justice coalition 

‘Today, listening to some of the populist leaders we now have, I am reminded of the 1930s, when some democracies collapsed into dictatorships seemingly overnight,’ Francis wrote. ‘We see it happening again now in rallies where populist leaders excite and harangue crowds, channeling their resentments and hatreds against imagined enemies to distract from the real problems.’

People fall prey to such rhetoric out of fear, not true religious conviction, he wrote. Such ‘superficially religious people vote for populists to protect their religious identity, unconcerned that fear and hatred of the other cannot be reconciled with the Gospel.’

Francis addressed the killing of Floyd, a Black man whose death at the knee of a white policeman set off protests this year across the United States. Referring to Floyd by name, Francis said: ‘Abuse is a gross violation of human dignity that we cannot allow and which we must continue to struggle against.’

But he warned that protests can be manipulated and decried the attempt to erase history by downing statues of U.S. Confederate leaders.

A better way, he said, is to debate the past through dialogue.

‘Amputating history can make us lose our memory, which is one of the few remedies we have against repeating the mistakes of the past,’ he wrote.

Spurs guard Marco Belinelli, a native of Italy, didn't travel far to meet with Pope Francis

Spurs guard Marco Belinelli, a native of Italy, didn't travel far to meet with Pope Francis

Spurs guard Marco Belinelli, a native of Italy, didn’t travel far to meet with Pope Francis 

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