Philadelphia 76ers power forward Tobias Harris is making a name for himself these days on and off the court. The nine-year NBA veteran has finally hit his stride in Philly. He’s also in the news for an article he wrote for The Players’ Tribune addressing racial injustice in America.
In the article, the 76er explains that he grew up in the privileged bubble of an elite athlete. Since the Trayvon Martin shooting in 2012, he’s taken the time to educate himself about racial injustice.
Tobias Harris’s thoughts on George Floyd
Harris clearly believes that African-American men are held to a different standard. The murder of George Floyd at the hands of four Minneapolis policemen is just the latest example. He believes the nationwide protests are not just about race but about simple humanity. The power forward goes on to say:
There needs to be a baseline acknowledgement of the reality: A white police officer killed an unarmed black man, and he was able to do it in broad daylight, with three other cops watching, because of the color of his skin. It’s always been about race. And if we dig really deep, this also about HUMANITY. If you can’t acknowledge that, then I can’t really have a dialogue with you.
But unlike many proponents of the current movements, Harris is not as interested in addressing the past; he is putting his energy into finding a way forward. Harris went on to explain, “We been in the streets protesting for years about police brutality. But it’s like, Y’all hear us, but you ain’t listening. That’s what’s the most upsetting thing for me.”
Trayvon Martin started Harris’s journey to fight for racial equality
The athlete’s playing days with the Orlando Magic, from 2103-16, came after the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012. But Martin was from the Orlando suburb of Sanford, and the area was still dealing with Martin’s killing when Harris got to town.
In the Players’ Tribune article, Harris says a march for Trayvon in Orlando was the turning point for him in recognizing and dealing with the plight of black men in America. He didn’t attend the march, says he didn’t really want to, but that he now regrets that decision.
Harris grew up just outside New York City and was a basketball phenom from an early age. He admits he did not experience the life of most black men in America due to the combined forces of talent and upbringing. He admits he was always recognized as the star athlete and got special treatment because of his talent and privilege.
Education and unity are the ways forward
Harris realized his education was focused on the Euro-centric experience. In his mostly white schools, he only learned about black Americans during Black History Month in February. When he got to the NBA and had the time (after one year at Tennessee), Harris began to educate himself on African-American pioneers in the U.S.
Now he takes that knowledge and uses it when he mentors kids all over the Philadelphia area. He says that although there are vast differences in the circumstances of his mentees, there is one unifying thread–that everyone deserves racial equality.
In a recent march in Philadelphia, Harris did participate knowing that at 6-foot-9, he would get noticed. He notes that the march was peaceful and the overall tone was one of togetherness, with a message of respect for people’s pain and hurt.
How the NBA can lead the way forward to stop police brutality
Several NBA players have stepped forward in the fight to stop police brutality and racial injustice. Harris believes the way forward is to have hard conversations and to hold people accountable for behaviors large and small.
According to the 76ers’ most prominent voice, pro athletes have a built-in platform. Millions of fans are willing to listen and start their own uncomfortable conversations to stop injustice.