The Atlanta Hawks have had two team meetings surrounding the national news of George Floyd’s death.
The first meeting was last Thursday, when head coach Lloyd Pierce did most of the talking. The second meeting was on Sunday, when the players did most of the talking.
After media coverage of former Minnesota officer Derrick Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, and nearly three minutes after Floyd lost consciousness, picked up steam with no arrests made, the nation began protesting. Coverage of Floyd’s death and the protests increased after the Minneapolis 3rd Police Precinct was set on fire. The weekend included a mixture of peaceful protest and powerful silent demonstrations, and powerful messages sent through riots.
Pierce said he, alongside Hawks co-owner Tony Ressler and others in leadership, has encouraged the players to use their voices during this time.
“What we have to collectively figure out moving forward is what WE can do to create REAL change,” Hawks guard Kevin Huerter, and the team’s only white player, tweeted on Monday. “What can WE do to prevent history from repeating itself OVER and OVER again. Do not forget what real issues we have. Our system is broken. Do Not Be Silent. Educate yourself and VOTE.”
John Collins shared his thoughts.
“Enough is enough and we can’t be silent anymore,” Collins wrote in a social media post.
#blacklivesmatter #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd pic.twitter.com/T4VdYMHudA— John Collins (@jcollins20_) June 1, 2020
Trae Young led a march in his hometown of Norman, Oklahoma on Monday afternoon.
“Even though I’m 21-years-old, I feel like it was necessary, and this is bigger than me,” Young said at the protest.
Trae Young’s speech at the Norman rally. pic.twitter.com/yNcLgdz32R— Joe Mussatto (@joe_mussatto) June 1, 2020
Pierce retweeted all three players and applauded their efforts to share their thoughts.
Treveon Graham posted a link to donate to the National Lawyers Guild, an organization founded to protect “the people’s rights.” Graham said Atlanta activist and hip-hop artist Killer Mike is the person who introduced him to the guild.
Brandon Goodwin has held back no punches in his opinion on the events.
First degree murder https://t.co/TTnOYVSyA1— Brandon Goodwin (@goodysav) June 1, 2020
Bruno Fernando has retweeted many posts focused on racial inequality, including this one.
May 27, 2020
Charlie Brown, Jr. has also retweeted some of the major events.
Tap in! This real right here man! Blessings brova https://t.co/IQy8P4NTDm— . (@charliekbrownjr) May 30, 2020
This has been an especially busy week for Atlanta’s head coach. As of Monday night, Pierce has appeared on The Jim Rome Show, ESPN’s The Woj Pod and #NBATogether with Ernie Johnson in addition to being a part of the newly-formed NBCA racial injustice and reform committee.
“For me, this isn’t new,” Pierce said on Monday. “I’ve been black for 44 years. This feeling of outrage isn’t new. I think what’s new is that it’s on TV, and it’s on TV during a time where a lot of people can’t leave or can’t move.”
Pierce hasn’t hesitated involving himself in social issues with his platform since he accepted the job with the Hawks in the summer of 2018. One of the initiatives he’s been actively involved with is the Georgia Innocence Project, which works to get wrongly-convicted inmates released and prevent wrongful convictions.
View this post on Instagram
Proud to be able to support @gainnocence in any way possible and sharing this news is why! JOHNNY LEE GATES IS FREE AT LAST! He just walked out of the Muscogee County Jail after surviving the unimaginable: 43 years in prison for crimes he did not commit, with 26 of those spent on death row. Johnny’s conviction was vacated due to new, exculpatory DNA evidence of innocence. In part, thanks to @gainnocence https://www.ajc.com/news/local/georgia-judge-orders-new-trial-1976-case-that-sent-man-death-row/uFksVcrz7zcL8HTGl3g9PM/
“I knew I was going into a city that was unique to all other cities in the country as an African American man,” Pierce said on The Woj Pod. “You have to be a voice in this city. What I’ve learned is because of that responsibility, you feel every single burden.”
The Hawks hired CEO Steve Koonin months before former co-owner Bruce Levenson self-reported he sent a 2012 email trying to figure out how to connect more with the 35-55-year-old white male demographic.
“My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a significant season ticket base,” the 2012 email read (without edits). “Please dont get me wrong. There was nothing threatening going on in the arean back then. i never felt uncomfortable, but i think southern whites simply were not comfortable being in an arena or at a bar where they were in the minority.”
The franchise found itself in a PR nightmare, but Koonin reacted quickly by hiring the first chief diversity and inclusion officer in professional sports — Nzinga Shaw. The Hawks also built a Hawks Diversity & Inclusion Council to embody “the demographics” they “serve.”
“I learned several years ago that as a white male in a significant position that if I don’t speak and try to influence others in similar positions to speak and to act, then very little will get done,” Koonin said on Monday. “I am committed to telling the truth, saying what needs to be said and saving the resources and the energy into getting change made.”
The latest development of the protests is the President of the United States warning military deployment against “professional anarchists, violent mobs, arsonists, looters, criminals, rioters, Antifa and others.”
“I don’t see why it’s possible in Flint, Michigan for police officers to stand with, and in Camden, New Jersey to stand with the protestors, and yet here and other places, it’s what we hear from our President and ‘we need to crack down harder,’ no. We need to empathize,” Pierce said on Monday. “We need to find a way to control the crowd and help understand that they are angry, they are upset, they have a right to be angry and upset. Now, how do we help them protest peacefully? How do we listen to them? How do we move past that?”
Pierce was adamant about highlighting the frustrations of black people go beyond police brutality, but the socioeconomic disparities in the community as well. He pointed to the lopsided statistics of the coronavirus, partially due to the lack of medicare available to black people.
Note: Robert (hawksfanatic) contributed to this report.