Pope Francis and NBA players discuss social justice in Vatican meeting

Pope Francis meets a delegation from the National Basketball Players Association at the Vatican Nov. 23, 2020. Photo credits: Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Nov 23, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis met with five NBA players at the Vatican Monday to discuss their efforts to combat social and economic injustice in the United States.

Milwaukee Bucks shooting guards Kyle Korver and Sterling Brown were a part of the delegation, along with Orlando Magic power forward Jonathan Isaac, the Memphis Grizzlies’ Anthony Tolliver, and Marco Belinelli of the San Antonio Spurs.

The basketball players met with the pope privately Nov. 23 in the papal library of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace. Three executives from the players’ union, the National Basketball Players Association, also took part in the meeting.

The pope commended the athletes for being examples of teamwork. “You’re champions … giving that good example of teamwork but always remaining humble … and preserving your own humanity,” AP reported the pope as saying.

Pope Francis requested the meeting last week because he wanted to learn more about the American athletes’ social justice advocacy, and the players’ union quickly scheduled an overnight flight Sunday, according to ESPN.

Following the death of George Floyd in May, NBA players mobilized to raise awareness of the police brutality affecting Black communities and the broader issues of inequality.

Players from six NBA teams also called off their postseason games in August in protest after the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin — a decision that led other professional sports teams to do likewise.  Among those players were Brown and Korver.

Brown recounted the experience to the pope. “It was raw and emotional for our team,” he said.

Pope Francis wrote about racism in his most recent encyclical “Fratelli tutti,” in which he compared racism to a virus that “quickly mutates and, instead of disappearing, goes into hiding, and lurks in waiting.”

The pope also spoke out about racism in the U.S. during a livestreamed audience in June in which he said that he was praying for the soul of George Floyd and for all who lost their lives “because of the sin of racism.”

Pope Francis also called Archbishop José Gomez, president of the U.S. bishops conference, the same day to thank the American bishops for the pastoral tone of the Church’s response to the demonstrations across the country.

“We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life. At the same time, we have to recognize that the violence of recent nights is self-destructive and self-defeating. Nothing is gained by violence and so much is lost,” Pope Francis said via livestream June 3.

“Let us pray for the comfort of families and friends who are heartbroken, and pray for national reconciliation and the peace we yearn for.”

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  1. The double tragedy might be that George Floyd is possibly problematic as an icon for a very just cause. Haven’t heard anything from the pending trials, whether he was killed by the nearly nine-minute neck constraint or, later and instead (or both), by an alleged triple overdose of fentanyl (two differing autopsy results were reported in the media).

    And, while I would never ever want to see it, someone sooner or later will propose that astronomically-salaried professional sports picks–like university admissions–should be more equitable and attentive to the racial breakdown of the American population: Hispanic/Latino 18%, African American 13.4%, Asian 5.9% and White 77% (or 61% if overlapping White Hispanics and Latinos are not included)(Wikipedia subtotals from 2019 census bureau estimates).

    And, is it really true, as reported in the media, that for every Black killed by the police (self defense or otherwise) some 290 others are killed by other Blacks and need something better than dull-axe 50% defunding of the police (e.g., the deplorable Seattle City Council model)?

    Racism is an issue, surely, but the perennial Church should also be in harmony with a higher choir and cautious about branding failures as systemic. For Pope Francis, who rhetorically and opportunistically said racism IS like a virus (Fratelli tutti), the even more inquisitive (here not to imply exonerating) messaging would also ask how is it (as a moral issue) also NOT like a virus?

    No objection here to the use of timely imagery; it often communicates much more effectively than verbiage and statistical tables. Even St. John Paul II enlisted this technique when he likened abortion to “poisoning the lives of millions of defenseless human beings as if in a form of ‘chemical warfare'” (Centesimus Annus, n. 39). The difference, of course, that in the case of saline solution abortions the imagery is literally true.

    Yes, “pray for national reconciliation and the peace we yearn for.”

  2. Pope Francis honors the moral authority of the NBA. How many illegitimate children have been fathered by NBA players past and present? Then we could talk about the rampant drug abuse and criminal behavior of so many of these role model “champions.” Is it possible for this joker to lower the dignity of his office and embarrass himself more than he has already? The answer, regrettably, is yes, and he will show us in the days ahead as he works harmoniously with the senile old fool who likely will be assuming the office of the US presidency in a couple of months. This man should be taken seriously only as an enemy. The “social justice” pronouncements of the NBA Players Association are on par with what comes out of Rome these days.

  3. The pope of the poor and marginalized does seem to spend a lot of time hobnobbing with millionaire celebrities, athletes, politicians and financiers. He started out his papacy doing the bidding of the wealthy German church and now he is a darling of the World Economic Forum Hollywood,and the NBA!

  4. Has there been any single day of his pontificate that Pope Francis has not pandered to some cringe-worthy, pop-cultural notion of morality or justice?

  5. In thought, word, and deed, they are yet to do justice to their enormous potential. Sportspersons have a lot to contribute in the realm of justice and peace.

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