If your time is limited, please skip this column. Go here instead, and listen. I can’t match the eloquence or emotions that you will hear.
In late May, when Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on the neck of George Floyd for more than eight minutes and killed him, the NBA suggested to teams that they put out statements protesting yet another homicide of a Black man at the hands of police.
Tom James, the longtime media relations guy for the San Antonio Spurs and now their vice president for communications, lived up to his title. He knew that one more statement, no matter how well-crafted, would not communicate. Over a weekend, he and other Spurs leaders reached out not only to players, but also to employees up and down the Spurs Sports & Entertainment organization.
As streets around the nation filled with thousands of protesters chanting the names of Floyd and Philando Castile and Michael Brown and Tamir Rice and Eric Garner and others, Spurs leaders heard the quiet, painful stories of their colleagues.
“We had never heard those stories before,” said one executive, adding that he was not proud of that fact. They decided the stories needed to be shared. The result is “Spurs Voices,” more than two dozen brief videos recorded just days after Floyd’s death. These are intimate stories that Black people rarely tell their white friends and don’t need to tell their Black friends.
They are stories we need to hear, not to read. I cannot do justice here to the pain and justified anger that emerge in the mostly calm and entirely quiet reflections presented by these accomplished people, nor can I convey their desire to make things right. Stephanie Ashe, risk and compliance manager, speaks for others when she says in her video, “I’m angry, but I refuse to be hateful.”
Some recount traumatic events. Dexter McMarion, an account manager at the Austin Spurs, recalls a Fourth of July incident when he was a 21-year-old student and basketball player at the University of Texas at Tyler. He was “chilling” with a group of friends when about a dozen police cars pulled up. Officers emerged with guns drawn and ordered the young men and women, some wearing dresses, to the ground. He says an officer slammed one of his friends against a car. He spontaneously jumped up and protested, only to find an officer pulling his arm up his back. Fearing his arm would break, he pleaded with a nearby female officer to “tell him not to break my arm.”
“It was one of the most degrading and hurtful experiences of my life,” McMarion says. He concludes that “You have to move on,” but clearly the emotions of that event are triggered regularly by each new violent video.
Brandon Gayle, a Spurs executive vice president, was previously a high-level executive at Facebook. His first memory of police brutality came when he was 10 and repeatedly saw the video of the 1991 police beating of Rodney King. There have been so many since.
“The killing of Philando Castile has stayed with me particularly because after he was shot multiple times by that police officer, Philando’s girlfriend, who was in the car with him, took out her phone and went live on Facebook,” he says in his video. “The world was able to watch live from a phone via a product I had helped our team launch a year prior, while the Black man died at the hands of police.”
Gayle says he is “petrified” at the thought of being pulled over. Having watched the video of Rodney King nearly 30 years ago, he says, “Nothing has changed except one thing. I am now a father of two brown boys. The reality of not being able to protect myself now extends to them. I can’t protect myself and can’t protect my boys because nothing has changed.”
Fighting tears, he continues, “I’ll say it again. I can’t protect my boys because nothing has changed.”
Laural Logan-Fain, senior director of organizational development, is a white woman married to a Black man. Their 13-year-old son is big for his age. When he was 10 and in fifth grade he was having a tough time and one day had an outburst, she said. A police officer was called and hauled him off, a traumatic event for a child. She can’t help wonder if it would have happened if he had skin like hers.
“The other day he came in and he shared with me, he said, ‘Mom, I feel like somebody is going to hurt me. I feel like I might die,’” she says in her video. “And right now he’s 13 and he’s only going to get bigger. And to some people, not to everyone, but to some people he’s only going to be more intimidating at times, more frightening. So it’s terrifying to think what might happen to him as he grows up, as he becomes a young man in the world that we’re living in right now. Just terrifying.”
For many, the indignities are not so dramatic but they are so daily. Being followed while shopping. People expressing surprise that they read so many books. Sean Elliott, the former star forward who’s now a TV commentator for the team’s broadcasts, talks of the pressure of “representing my race,” of being told he’s “not like the others,” and getting on an elevator in other cities and realizing that he’s causing tension.
“Lots of times I have to diffuse the situation, because people are scared,” he says. “They’re scared of me! Isn’t that amazing? I wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
Elliott is practiced at making television, but it is clear that for the others it was not easy to tell their stories. They deserve our attention, and our gratitude. Again, go here.
Disclosure: Spurs Give, the nonprofit arm of Spurs Sports & Entertainment, is a financial supporter of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business members, click here.