Mark Madsen, head coach of Utah Valley University’s men’s basketball team, said he “could not be more proud” of NBA players’ refusal to participate playoff games last week in protest for racial justice.
Madsen published an article on his website on Friday, Aug. 28, in which he addressed the decision by the Milwaukee Bucks not to take the court for a game last Wednesday. The actions of the Bucks came after a Kenosha, Wisconsin police officer shot a Black man, Jacob Blake, seven times in the back, followed by several nights of protest and unrest in Kenosha. The rest of the NBA quickly followed suit by postponing all playoff games on Thursday. Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League joined in as well, with a number of teams canceling or postponing games.
In his article, Madsen wrote about how his nine years as a player in the NBA — a league in which people of color make up more than 80 percent of all players — helped him better understand the discrimination faced by so many Americans.
“Being white in a predominantly African American NBA, my eyes were opened to personal stories of many African American players who were treated badly on many occasions,” Madsen wrote. “I simply did not know that some of this treatment existed. I had not personally experienced these things and may never experience these things, but hearing the stories back then made me feel sad and it helped me to realize that despite how far we as a country have come, we still have miles to travel.”
Madsen spoke to The Review about the experiences he saw second hand as a player and the racial reckoning the nation is going through. According to Madsen, conversations around race and discrimination have long been a part of the NBA. He recalled a former teammate who described his experience as, “being pulled over, ripped from his car by law enforcement, and held on the ground while weapons were brandished.”
In another incident, Madsen described a Minnesota Timberwolves teammate who was “distraught and exhausted” in the team’s locker room after having been “pulled over for no reason and … harassed by the police the night before.” Madsen said that he remembers multiple teammates who shared similar experiences that he chose not to discuss due to the personal nature of the stories.
“I had a lot of thoughts and feelings on the heart,” Madsen said, as to why he felt he should share his perspective. “This is a tough time in the country. I think I’m a little bit impacted by being from California. I have this image of Rodney King in my mind and that was 30 years ago. I felt pain. The Black community felt pain. The white community felt pain. If we don’t talk about it, we are doing ourselves a disservice.”
For Madsen, basketball didn’t just expand and diversify the people he was surrounded by, it gave him the chance to listen and empathize with others — something he implores everyone to spend more time doing.
“As you spend so much time together, you get a glimpse of what it’s like to walk in the shoes of an African American in this country,” he said. “Even though I’ll never know what it is really like, there’s an automatic bridge built in locker rooms when you get to see people who they really are.”
In a time when athletes around the world are more vocal than ever — speaking out about politics, social justice and human rights — Madsen said he sees athletes as important messengers in the fight for justice and equality. Stories like the one shared on Twitter last week by current NBA player Maurice Harkless, underscore the fact that sports stardom and money do not protect anyone from systemic discrimination and racism.
“I think accountants should speak up when they see something they don’t like,” said Madsen. “I think finance people should speak up when they see something they don’t like and I think athletes should speak up when they see something they don’t like. These athletes feel a mantle of responsibility to speak out on things that need to change.”
While calling for change, Madsen was emphatic about his support for law enforcement and the “men and women who put their lives on the line every single day to protect others.” He said that now is a time to come together in unity and realize how much all Americans have in common. He compared this current moment to watching film after a game in which his Los Angeles Lakers lost by 30 points. It didn’t do the team any good to pretend the blowout didn’t happen, the only way to improve going forward was to recognize the mistakes that were made and take concrete steps to remedy them. The same is true today. Without reckoning the inequities of the past and the present, America cannot begin to take steps towards creating a better tomorrow.
“I think we live in a world of extremes,” Madsen said. “You look at the emotion on all sides of this. It’s important to not be divisive. It’s important to be empathetic. I’ve never walked in the shoes of a police officer being called to a potentially dangerous scene, or an African American who has experienced racism. What people feel and what they see is real.”
“We have 16 players on our team, and every player comes from a different background,” he added. “We have a range of opinions on our team and I think that’s healthy.”
Madsen said he is grateful that UVU makes an effort to create a campus that is inclusive and comfortable for each and every student, and he believes the decision makers will continue to make necessary changes to achieve this goal. For the average person, he said the most important thing is to be willing to listen to, empathize with and learn from those whose experiences differ from our own.
“I need to take a hard look at myself, is there anything about me that needs examination? I will never know what certain things feel like. That doesn’t mean that other people of color and white people haven’t been through tremendous difficulties as well, but I do think that it is highly important that we listen with respect to people with different backgrounds. You don’t have to agree, but you can listen.”
(Photo by Hunter Hall)
Valley Life Editor