Last night the Oklahoma City Thunder honored the family of Tulsa native Terence Crutcher, who was fatally shot by Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby on September 16, 2016. The circumstances surrounding the shooting are still unclear, but video from an on-scene police helicopter shows Crutcher being shot while apparently having his hands in the air. As with any criminal investigation, the innocent will remain innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. This is not an article to assign guilt or to take sides. I can only imagine how stressful it must be to be a police officer in this day and age. But I also can’t imagine how scary it must be to get pulled over and be a black male. It’s scary on both sides, and it isn’t supposed to be like that.
Even though athletes have a great platform from which to pontificate on whatever they so feel, they sometimes aren’t equipped with the knowledge and/or verbiage to push these thoughts through in a palatable manner. It’s part of the reason why Colin Kaepernick’s silent protest of the national anthem is so powerful. He’s not left to stumble over his words or say the wrong thing. Instead, his action becomes a speech on its own.
During the Thunder’s media day, the shootings of Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott of Charlotte, NC, were still fresh on the minds of many a Thunder player. In addition, the visible protesting from Kaepernick and many others in the sports world led to some questions concerning possible upcoming protests from Thunder players. Would they sit during the national anthem? Would they stand, but raise a fist? Here are a couple excerpts from media day concerning this subject.
Q. What you’ve seen of what’s going on in Charlotte right now, how does that make you feel?
ANTHONY MORROW: Obviously I’m sad, that being in my own personal city, it’s very unfortunate, a sad situation, and a sad unfortunate time we’re in right now but it really hit home with me being in Tulsa and the next day it’s Charlotte. It’s just something that we’ve just got to continue to pray and continue to try to find the right answer or medium. Because right now, it’s kind of all-or-nothing. So just praying for my city and praying for Tulsa and everywhere else.
Q. What goes through your mind when you see the situation with Tulsa, pretty close to here and also your thoughts on some of the stands people are taking on Colin Kaepernick right now?
RUSSELL WESTBROOK: I think it’s very important — more importantly, I think a lot of people don’t realize the families of all these young men, their mothers, their brothers, sisters, uncles, uncles, I think it’s very important that we understand how important the families feel about the situations. And me being an African-American athlete and having a voice, I think it’s important that I make a stand and know that something has to change. I think I don’t have an answer. Obviously nobody has an answer if that’s the case, it would have been (inaudible) but I think it’s important that we figure out what we can do to help improve what’s going on.
Q. When you see what’s happening this week in Charlotte, what’s happening in Tulsa with Terence Crutcher, how does that make you feel about what’s going on right now?
NICK COLLISON: It’s heartbreaking. It’s really hard to turn on the TV and see these things happening and seeing so many people so frustrated, angry, sad, scared. You know, I think the big thing that I would like for everyone to do is to just listen to each other, listen to — these people are experiencing something that maybe we don’t all experience; but to listen to them and try to do our best to find solutions and make it better. I think I support people who are protesting in their own way and I support people who are trying to make things better. I guess that’s my take on it.
The spotlight was shining brightest on the Thunder players because of their proximity to Tulsa. In the three preseason games prior to Thursday night’s game, there was nary a mention of the Crutcher or Scott situation. As is usually the case with life, people move on. The political noise and the Kevin Durant noise have all drowned out any memory of what occurred on September 16th and September 20th. There were inklings of news here and there, but mainly people moved on, likely waiting for the next police shooting.
But the Thunder organization still had the Crutcher family on their minds. They invited some members of the Crutcher family to the game, to include Crutcher’s four year old son, Terence Crutcher, Jr who got to meet the players. They invited former Thunder player and political activist Etan Thomas to deliver the convocation before the game who being adorned in a #Justice4Crutcher shirt. And they wore warm-ups that had the letters “TC” embroidered on them.
There wasn’t a public protest…because there didn’t need to be one. The entire organization made a stand, together. No one sat during the national anthem. There was no division on the team of some players wearing the “TC” warm-ups and other players not wearing it. This was unity. This was what we needed. And sadly, I feel like not enough was being made about an entire team coming together to support the victim of a police shooting.
Usually players are left on an island to make their own statements (ex. Colin Kaepernick). But last night, the Oklahoma City Thunder organization made the statement. Not Russell Westbrook by himself. Not Anthony Morrow by himself. Not Enes Kanter by himself. The organization made a concerted effort of shielding their players from being on that island by themselves. The organization became the island.
Teams never do that. Yes, they may allow their players to wear “I CAN’T BREATHE” t-shirts. But to provide the team with custom-made warm-ups that commemorate a man whose death was still under investigation is unheard of. There are reasons teams don’t make stands like this. There’s fear of backlash from the community or from the local police department. But yesterday, there was none of that. And the next day, there was none of that. In a state where the majority of the people will likely vote for Donald Trump next month, that is saying something. The Thunder took a stand yesterday, and it resonated with hardly anyone.