I don’t think it was something a president should have said. That’s part of life and I like the way a lot of people answered to that —Thabo Sefolosha
SALT LAKE CITY — If there’s anyone more qualified than Thabo Sefolosha to speak on race relations in America, please stand up.
As authoritative opinions go, the first-year Jazz player is about as strong as it gets. The City of New York paid him $4 million to drop a federal lawsuit accusing police of false arrest and excessive force outside a nightclub in 2015. He was acquitted of all charges.
Sefolosha is the son of a mixed-race marriage. His mother is from Switzerland, his father from South Africa.
In other words, he’s one of us.
All of us. Together.
He speaks three languages and came to America without preconceived opinions on the political/racial climate. Now he has plenty of them. So naturally, he’s a must-have interview on the topic currently obsessing Americans, i.e. respecting and protecting people of color and/or the national anthem.
His conclusion: People need to talk — not necessarily while the anthem is being played. Last season, playing for the Atlanta Hawks, he stood during “The Star Spangled Banner.”
“Maybe it’s because I’m not American,” he told Marc Spears of The Undefeated. “I want to be respectful to a lot of Americans that I know are great people. And I’d rather have a conversation like this, to sit down and talk about what I see being an issue and what I would like to see change, instead of making it a public thing.”
That was last December. But of course, it’s an inescapably public thing now. The issue hit hyper-drive Sunday when dozens of NFL players knelt during the anthem following a Donald Trump speech in which he said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that (SOB) off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’”
Just what the country needed — more name-calling.
Sefolosha grew up expecting manners from everyone. His mother is a painter, whose work has been shown at exhibitions worldwide. His father a musician. His parents lived in apartheid South Africa until moving to Europe, feeling it was a better place to raise a mixed-race family. Sefolosha was born and raised in Switzerland.
His background, combined with the encounter with the NYPD, makes him uniquely suited to commentate on Sunday’s protests.
“Uniquely suited, I don’t know,” he said at Jazz Media Day on Monday. “I think everybody’s going to have an opinion about it, for sure, but just the fact of the division that’s occurring right now here in the United States, and obviously those comments were pretty offensive, so I don’t think it was something a president should have said. That’s part of life and I like the way a lot of people answered to that.”
No offense intended.
This isn’t Sefolosha’s first time discussing race relations. He’s on the record saying the conversation Colin Kaepernick triggered by sitting out the anthem at NFL games last season was “a good thing.” But he has said he can see other ways to address the issue. So he stood for the flag last season.
He was there from “Oh say can you see ” to “home of the brave.”
Since neither Kaepernick nor Trump seem interested in calm discussion, Sefolosha will handle it.
“It’s a great conversation to have,” he regularly tells media.
Sefolosha became more famous than just a basketball player when he suffered a broken leg and ligament damage during the New York arrest. He had never been arrested before.
As far as controversy goes, he seems an unlikely candidate. He is soft spoken and introspective, a player teammates like. He told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that race relations are, “a necessary conversation and hopefully it can happen without violence in all the demonstrations going on.”15 comments on this story
Other Jazz players addressed their reactions to Trump, some disagreeing with him, others barely commenting. General manager Dennis Lindsey struck a conciliatory note, saying that protesters can be patriotic and those who stand for the national anthem can support change.
Last year, the Jazz reacted to political and social justice issues by locking arms but standing during the anthem. They say they’ll decide in the next few days how they’ll deal with the issue this year. Surely they’ll consult with Sefolosha. He probably won’t make a ton of noise. But like his mother, he knows how to paint a picture.