Raptors’ Norman Powell ‘disappointed’ with NBA’s jersey message options

Norm Powell discusses the topic of putting statements on the back of players' jerseys, stating that he was upset at being 'boxed in' to a limited amount of cookie-cutter statements, and has elected to go with "Black Lives Matter"

TORONTO – “Am I next?”

These three simple words are what Toronto Raptors forward Norman Powell wanted to put on the back of his jersey in the NBA’s restart, but ultimately couldn’t.

As the fight against anti-Black racism and police brutality continues to rage on, the NBA will be returning to play at the end of the month with what’s going on around the world socially and politically among the priorities in many players’ minds.

Powell can be counted among this group and on Thursday, he publicly made his feelings known on the list of 29 social justice messages that were reportedly approved by the NBA and NBPA.

“In regard to the jersey and things I was really disappointed in the options that were given to us, first and foremost I feel like with a topic just like this – social justice – that we’re fighting for, the fact that we were boxed in to a list of 28, 29 sayings was really unfortunate,” said Powell on a conference call. “We’ve got a lot of guys in this league that have a voice and have been using their voice through this time and we’re really excited about the whole thing about being able to change our last names, and put a quote there that represents where we stand and what we want to say and how we feel about this, and I was really upset about the whole change and how we’re really limited.

“I feel the list was really cookie-cutter, and really doesn’t touch the topics of what we’re trying to achieve here.”

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A rare glimpse into Powell’s thinking from the usually-private Raptor, and words that speak to a conundrum the NBA finds itself in at the moment.

From allowing players to wear “I Can’t Breathe” warm up shirts, to the swift action taken by NBA commissioner Adam Silver against Donald Sterling to the plans the NBA and sister league WNBA to help support the Black Lives Matter movement, the NBA is clearly one of the more progressive pro sports leagues in the world in regard to racial justice.

The idea behind social justice messages on the back of jerseys certainly seems like something that was well-intentioned, but the execution of it is where it looks like the NBA fell short.

Even though this was reportedly a joint venture between the league and Players’ Association, it seems as if there wasn’t nearly enough player consultation on this 29-message list, which has left Powell feeling sour about the whole process.

“Honestly, for me, I wish there wasn’t even a list. It’s a topic where it’s freedom of speech, and you’re taking your name off the back of your jersey that matters to you,” Powell added. “That speaks volumes to how you view things and your approach to life and you shouldn’t be boxed in to say you can only say this much, this is OK for you to say. You shouldn’t be boxed in on a topic like this.”

Powell isn’t alone in thinking this, either, Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James expressed a similar sentiment last weekend, saying he would’ve “loved to have a say-so on what would have went on the back of [his] jersey,” and is instead opting to not even wear a social justice message at all.

Powell is opting to wear “Black Lives Matter” on the back of his jersey as it, to him, “was the most radical saying that spoke to where I stand on this.”

It still isn’t close to what he really wanted to say – “Am I next?” – which has obvious connotations regarding police brutality against the Black community and the killings of people such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by law enforcement.

Maybe if Powell were to have his voice heard on the matter his message would’ve been approved, or maybe it wouldn’t have, but the issue lies in the fact that he nor James – arguably the world’s most famous basketball player – were given much say in the matter.

This is a failing on the NBA and NBPA’s fault and an unfortunate one at that because as much positive momentum about what the NBA was going to do to further the ongoing social conversation right now, it feels like in this matter they’ve stumbled out of the starting gate.

It’s particularly disappointing because on daily conference calls around the league players are spilling their guts letting the world know about what this movement means to them, their own personal experiences with racism and what they’re doing to make a difference individually, their voices aren’t as well-represented as they probably should be from a league level.

Take Powell, for example, who said that he’ll be donating 100 per cent of his Understand The Grind apparel line proceeds to help Toronto-based foundation Black Women in Motion and U.S. organization Change in the U.S. Additionally, he said he’ll personally match all proceeds to these charities as well.

Powell joins players like New Orleans Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday, who’s donating all of his game cheques during the restart to social justice causes, making an effort on his own to help the cause.

The social justice messages on the back of the jerseys could’ve been a powerful moment for the NBA, instead with criticism levied over the process of how the messages were selected and involved it’s just highlighted how much work still needs to be done for players’ voices to be better represented.

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