More Than Just a Game: Hoyas Wear ‘I Can’t Breathe’ Shirts Before Matchup with Kansas
In their matchup against No. 10 Kansas this Wednesday, the Georgetown men’s basketball team narrowly missed out on the opportunity for a notable win, but used the high-profile setting to make a statement about a larger issue.
During pregame warmups, all of the team’s players wore black shirts that read “I Can’t Breathe” in white lettering. The words were the last spoken by Eric Garner, an African American man who was put in a chokehold by a New York City police officer, and was eventually strangled to death, after being approached for selling loose cigarettes.
Similar shirts had previously made appearances in the NBA when the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James and the Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose, among others, wore them before their games over the past week. However, the Hoyas were the first college players to decide to display the shirts in support of the nationwide movement in protest of police brutality and the racial profiling of African Americans.
Though statements have been made across sports, with members of the St. Louis Rams entering the field last week in the “hands up, don’t shoot” pose, Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson III wanted to make sure that the players understood the gravity of the statement they were making.
“I think you can go from Patrick Ewing wearing a t-shirt underneath his jersey and it becomes something that everyone does. Allen Iverson braiding his hair and playing in the league and it becomes something that everyone does, or Kobe wearing the tights and then everyone does it; this isn’t that,” said Thompson. “This isn’t one of those things that you go along with because it is trending.”
The decision to wear the shirts was made collectively by the players. Thompson was not informed of the decision until prior to game time. However, the larger issue and the manner in which it was to be addressed was discussed by coaches and players for weeks prior to Wednesday’s game.
“We have had a lot of discussions and the emotions, as it relates to the protest that the guys wanted to do today and the emotions and the feelings in the locker room are all over the place, meaning not necessarily everyone feels the same way,” said Thompson.
“The emotions go from fear to frustration to confusion to anger and the reasons why every individual wanted to wear it are all over the place, too, which is probably pretty consistent with the emotions across the country. Everyone does not respond the same way, but I think the group wanted to put ourselves in a position to be part of a process to help where there is positive change opposed to just negative reactions.”
When asked about the shirts, the players said that the statement was, first and foremost, meant to pay condolences to the families who had lost loved ones unnecessarily. This is similar to the sentiment portrayed by James and other NBA players.
“It was a variety of reasons why we wanted to wear the shirts. It was quite a few families who lost a loved one this year with the Michael Brown case and Trayvon Martin also. We really wanted to represent those families that all lost someone,” said junior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. “It wasn’t just this one scenario that a lot of people walked for that one case. I just thought that we wanted to represent the families and send our condolences that way.”
There will certainly be some who will question the decision made by the team. Colleges, in the past, have been central to catalyzing social change on a national level, but these statements have, especially in their time, not been universally accepted.
At Georgetown, the men’s basketball program has also never favored conformity, with former Head Coach John Thompson Jr. known as one of the more outspoken men in the sport’s history. The elder Thompson, who sits in the back of every Hoya home press conference, chimed in when his son was asked about the importance of his team’s statement and made it clear that, in his mind, the decision to wear the shirts was no mistake.
“It’s a fucking school. It’s your responsibility to do things like that.”
Photo: Georgetown University via Facebook