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Trae Young on using his influence for good

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Toronto Raptors v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young is molding a legacy to become, as he’s said before multiple times in the past, “one of the all-time greats.”

As seen in the past month, greatness is defined beyond a player’s performance on the court.

“For me personally, I know I’m not just a basketball player,” Young said on Wednesday afternoon. “I’m a role model, I’m bigger than what I do. I know in times like this I know I need to speak up and speak up for what’s right, I’m going to do so.”

After five weeks of LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan debates in the basketball world during the airing of “The Last Dance,” James received props for an area Jordan always struggled with — using his platform to speak on social issues.

Jasmine Jordan, Michael’s daughter, said in an interview with “The Breakfast Club” this is a different era where speaking up is often expected of top athletes and they’re trying to help their father adjust. After James received acknowledgement of being ahead of Jordan in the “speaking out” category, the Jordan Brand donated $100,000,000 to racial equality causes.

He’s a competitive guy, you might’ve heard.

This past Tuesday, news of voting issues at polls throughout Georgia made headlines, again, and the outrage was perhaps even more heightened with the timing of the national protests. One of the more notable names upset was James, who tweeted about the state’s “structurally racist” voting system.

A day later, news surfaced of a voting initiative “More Than a Vote” launched by James aimed to register and inform black on what to do when “the other side” tries to stop black citizens from voting. Star athletes are a part of the organization, including one of Georgia’s biggest stars in Young and Skylar Diggins-Smith. Georgia native Alvin Kamara was a part of a call with James on Monday related to the effort.

Young hosted a peaceful protest in his hometown of Norman, Oklahoma, an event that created one of the more visible images of the protest — the NBA All-Star starter holding a “Black Lives Matter” sign next to his little brother, Timothy. Timothy was also holding a sign, his read “All Lives Can’t Matter Until Black Lives Matter.”

“I thought it’s very important for me to go out there and show my face,” Young said on Wednesday. “I think it was a responsibility for me to speak up, especially through a time like this. I felt like it was a big day for me to do that.”

Young credits a lot of his involvement to his little sister, Caitlyn, who’s a rising junior at TCU. Young said she’s someone who is extremely passionate about social issues and she was also being interviewed after the peaceful demonstration.

“I was just proud to be her big brother and just to see her be vocal about how she really feels,” Young said.

Young’s father, Ray Young, also takes pride in raising his children in a household where they won’t be afraid to speak on social issues.

Young was also one of three NBA stars (Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin) connected to Oklahoma who sent letters to the Governor requesting commutation for Julius Jones, a man on death row for a 1999 murder his family has yet said he committed.

Westbrook’s activism will enter the world of film soon. The former Oklahoma City Thunder guard is set to produce a docuseries on the 1921 destruction of “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa. The area was one as one of America’s most prosperous for black citizens.

On May 31, 1921, the Tulsa Tribune reported a black man attempted rape on a white woman. Instead of waiting for an investigation to play out, enraged white people invaded the area and started a two-day massacre. Thirty-five blocks of the city went up into flames, 300 people died and 800 were injured. While Young said he didn’t know enough about the event to address it in-depth, he was happy to hear Westbrook was shedding a light on it.

“It’s big time,” Young said. “It just shows how much Russ means to the city of Oklahoma and how much he really still cares about it. It’s good to see him show that type of support and love to the city of Oklahoma.”

The majority of Young’s 2019-20 exit interview, which spanned for approximately 25 minutes, focused on social issues. While Young said he loved “The Last Dance,” and it motivated him to win multiple championships, perhaps his generation has taught the “I’m not a role model” generation something, too.

“I think it’s important that my generation and the younger generation speak up. Not just in the protests but in voting, different things like that. It’s good to see,” Young said. “Being a black athlete is definitely something I’m aware of, and I know I need to speak on it.”