Shootings, not basketball, weigh on VanVleet’s mind


ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — Fred VanVleet met with the media via Zoom Tuesday morning to answer questions as he so often does. Only this time basketball wasn’t the conversation. The Toronto Raptors and their upcoming playoff series with the Celtics were hardly mentioned. The dominant topic was the shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin that happened Sunday night.

A white police officer shot Jacob Blake a black man in the back multiple times. Blake has survived the shooting, but his family says Blake is now paralyzed from the waist down. VanVleet has seen the video. He’s frustrated and perplexed by it.

“You can’t really make sense of it. I mean, you can but, it’s not, it’s not the most logical thing in the world for people to be getting killed because of their skin color. That’s not…it just doesn’t make sense.”

VanVleet feels like the push for change in society isn’t gaining traction. “It makes it that much more frustrating when there’s no real changes being made because this is all we’re seeing. It starts to become a rhythm, “Black Lives Matter,” “Black Lives Matter,” “Black Lives Matter,” somebody gets killed for no reason, protest, protest, protest and rinse and repeat. So that’s just what it feels like, so it’s very draining.”

VanVleet, like all NBA players, had to make the decision in July whether to head to Florida to resume playing or whether he should boycott games to take a stand for social justice. The NBA allowed players to wear social justice messages on the backs of their jerseys, and ‘Black Lives Matter’ was painted on the courts. The idea to play on was embraced by the vast majority of the players, that doesn’t mean that they haven’t second-guessed their choices.

“You coming down here and making a choice to play it was supposed to not be in vain,” said VanVleet, “But it’s just starting to feel like everything that we’re doing is just going through the motions and nothing’s really changing.”

“At what point does this…do we not have to speak about it anymore? “Do we actually give a (bleep) about what’s going on or is it just cool to wear ‘Black Lives Matter’ on the backdrop or wear a T-shirt. What does it really mean? Is it really doing anything? I don’t have the answers for you today.”

The Raptors held a team meeting Tuesday morning to discuss the Kenosha shooting and all that’s been unfolding. VanVleet was asked if the team discussed boycotting the upcoming series against the Celtics.

“A number of things are being discusssed. I’ll keep that between our team, but we’re dealing with it in real time, and I think it affects everybody differently.”

VanVleet is no stranger to violence and tragedy. His own father was shot and killed when VanVleet was only five years old, not by a police officer. And despite being in the NBA Bubble in Florida VanVleet is aware of the recent escalation of shootings in his hometown of Rockford. Shootings that police say are primarily gang members going after each other. Still those shootings lead to death, injury and family members that are hurting.

“There’s a lot of stuff for me going on back home,” said VanVleet. “People in my own community dieing, not by the hands of police, but by being a product of their environment, so you try to take all that in and here we’re all isolated.” “My father was killed when I was young, so life is just a lot of things that go into taking all this information in.”

And then VanVleet also can’t help thinking about his two young children he’s raising who will grow up in a world that seems plagued by turmoil.

“To personalize a situation like that (the Kenosha shooting) I think about my babies having to see that or growing up my son is going to have to walk, you know, some of these same environments, and you have to teach the kids about how to interact with the police and what do to and what not to do. You become helpless a little bit, and it’s scary.”

Perhaps Wednesday VanVleet’s focus will be back on basketball. Don’t bet on it.

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