San Juana Paramo
On April 8, 2019 Kyle Korver, Utah Jazz player, wrote a poignant essay on race and white privilege. In the essay, published in The Players’ Tribune, Korver openly discussed his thoughts about the uncomfortable contradictions of being a white player in a predominantly black sport.
In his essay, Korver recounted an incident from when he was a player for the Atlanta Hawks that involved his teammate, Thabo Sefolosha. In 2015 Sefolosha was injured and arrested in New York, months later a jury found Sefolosha not guilty on all charges and settled with the city over the NYPD’s use of force against him.
Korver admits his thoughts regarding Sefolosha’s arrest were embarrassing and left him feeling uncomfortable. Those uncomfortable feelings later resurfaced after an incident during a Jazz home game. The Jazz were playing against the Thunder when Russell Westbrook and a fan exchanged words during the game. After the game Westbrook “said he felt the comments were racially charged.”
Korver writes that the incident “struck a nerve with our team” and that after a closed-door meeting with the president of Jazz, players shared their own similar experiences. Korver joined his team in a demand for a swift response and a promise from the organization to address the concerns the players had.
Korver notes that dealing with racist hecklers in the NBA is easy because “in those cases, the racism is loud and clear” and in response, “we throw the guy out of the building, and then we ban him for life.” He notes that the more dangerous racism isn’t “that loud and stupid kind,” but rather “the quiet and subtle kind.”
Korver questions, how he “as a white man, part of this systemic problem—become part of the solution when it comes to racism in my workplace? In my community? In this country?” Korver writes that above all, as a white man he must hold his “fellow white men accountable.”
That accountability must not be limited to professional sports or sports in general. Incidents involving racism in sports are prevalent and not limited to the professional level, often such incidents are present at the college level.
On August 11, 2018, the Gateway reported a UNO sports fan “shouted comments about deportation and anti-immigrant sentiment at some players” during a men’s soccer game against Creighton.
The Gateway also reported that in 2017, UNO’s baseball team experienced a hate-related incident “when one of the players wrote a phrase that included a racial slur on a locker room board,” which was then “witnessed by a prospective baseball player and his family while touring the facility.”
Back in 2013 the Omaha World-Herald reported that three UNO hockey players faced “disorderly conduct allegations after they allegedly spouted racial slurs and got into a fight in the Old Market.”
Accountability begins with an open, authentic dialogue about inequality and racism in college sports. It is important for UNO coaches and players to have an open conversation about their experiences, if any, regarding racism and sexism in sports. Because if we don’t hold each other and our actions accountable, as Korver writes “our inaction can create a “safe” space for toxic behavior.”
Unfortunately, the UNO athletics departments did not respond to several requests from the Gateway to discuss the topic of racism in athletics.
In order to grow and find ways to positively affect change in sports and in our communities, we must begin by doing as Korver says–identifying racism and actively denouncing that racism at every level.