Pacers star Victor Oladipo: Modern resources can create racial progress 'no one has ever seen before'

Sporting News

On a social media platform known as Facebook Live, Indiana Pacers star Victor Oladipo spoke through the World Wide Web to an audience watching on phones, tablets and personal computers spread throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky and beyond. The astonishing technological progress made during the past three decades, and its ability to influence similar progress with civil rights, led him to say this:

“Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm, Rosa Parks and even Harriet Tubman all the way back then, they didn’t have the resources we have right now. They did all they could to affect change. Now I can sit at the table with my white friends. Now I can go down the street to a restaurant with my white friends. I can use the same bathroom as my white friends. I can go on trips with my white friends and nobody think it’s weird or un-normal. They didn’t have the resources we have, and they empowered that big of a change.

“So now it’s our turn to see, with the resources we have … together, we can affect change that only they could dream about. We can affect the change that Martin Luther King had a dream about. We can effect change that no one has ever seen before. We truly have the power to do that. And if people are out there who don’t think that, well, then, you’re a fool. Plain and simple.”

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Oladipo was appearing on a Monday morning broadcast of John Calipari’s Facebook Live program “Coffee with Cal” that primarily discussed the civil rights demonstrations launched by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, an even that led to second-degree murder charges against former officer Derek Chauvin and “aiding and abetting” charges against three officers who watched or assisted as Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

Calipari’s panel for the hour-long discussion included Harvard coach Tommy Amaker, former Wildcats center Reid Travis and Arizona State defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, with ESPN’s Jordan Cornette serving as host. All made essential points about the need for progress in American race relations.

Oladipo, asked by Cornette how he could help assure that the widespread support for Black Lives Matter becomes a “movement, not a moment,” responded by saying that it’s important to understand the positive recent response — which we’ve all seen from citizens, leagues, corporations, governments — must continue.

“This is just the beginning. At the end of the day, it takes time to do anything powerful. It takes time to do anything great,” Oladipo said. “Just think about where we are when it comes to segregation; that’s been 400 years. And things, if you really look at the grand scheme of things, things are better than they were back then. But they’re still not solved.

“It’s taken 400 years to do so, and it’s going to take longer than this pandemic to solve the problem. Our generation has to steer that.”

When Cornette suggested to Amaker that what he’s seeing reflected in the protests “feels different, more unified,” the coach responded by saying that he sees a genuine opportunity for progress.

“I have found it very ironic that it is the year 2020, and for me 2020 stands for clear or maybe perfect vision,” Amaker said. “We’re seeing all of this through clear vision, not anything that’s clouded, and I do think part of it is really because of the pandemic. As awful as that has been for our world, our country and communities of color, specifically, it has allowed us all to take a pause.

“We see clearly that this is a problem. We see clearly that it’s more diverse in who wants to get behind it, which I am just thrilled about and it just warms my heart to see. The protesters and people who are supporting come from all different backgrounds and all different colors and shapes and races and religions. It’s wonderful to see.

“I think we have a chance for a breakthrough. Is it going to heal and fix everything? I don’t know about that. But I do think we can move in a direction that we’ll be very proud of as we look back on these moments.”

Lewis said that even as a black man he felt as though he were living in an ivory tower while coaching the Bengals in Cincinnati for 15 years, from 2003 to 2018.

“If something would happen, if somebody pulls me over, they run the plates and they already know who I am when they walk up,” Lewis said. “And my son said this to me one time, and it didn’t resonate. But it does now. The last year and a half … when they run your plates, they don’t know who you are. It just happened to me about a week-and-a-half ago. It’s a different feeling. So we have to understand.

“We as coaches, we have to have an influence. ... There still has to be a respect element. We can’t forget that. Because these people that work in law enforcement, they’re not 100 percent bad. We know that. But we do have to understand that we need to command the respect we all deserve.”

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