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Baynes: ‘I feel it’s my duty’ to learn, listen and use NBA platform

Suns center Aron Baynes discussed looking up to Monty Williams and listening to his family as the national conversation around police brutality continues.

Phoenix Suns v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

Most of the way through a conference call with local media on Thursday morning, Suns center Aron Baynes missed a question entirely. Not because he wasn’t paying attention, but because he was so visibly shaken up by an answer he gave about hearing his wife’s stories that he had to put his head in a towel and collect himself.

In a time of Zoom interviews and social distancing and a reckoning for the country that has had a way of making us all feel disentangled spiritually, Baynes’ reaction was so genuine and impassioned that you might just feel hope for a split second.

“I feel it’s my duty,” Baynes said. “I’m going to have to educate my children. It’s about understanding that people can change, and their dad was one of those people. It’s about having that hope and belief for other people.”

For those who missed it among the many other athletes coming down on one side of this situation or another, Baynes penned a thoughtful note this week with his thoughts on the social upheaval in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.

Baynes wrote about growing up in a small town in Australia and being ignorant of the plight of those of different color, and of marrying and raising mixed-race children with a black woman.

“I do not understand firsthand how a lifetime or generations of being oppressed feels,” Baynes wrote in the open letter. “What I do know is it breaks my heart that people would judge my children, or any other child based purely on the colour of their skin.”

When Baynes was 16, he moved to a bigger city to continue playing basketball, where he got his first taste of diversity. In basketball, you’re bound to come across people of all nationalities and lineages, and Baynes was no different. He made a point to educate himself as he traveled to the United States to attend the University of Washington and throughout his NBA career.

“I saw that there were different sides of the tracks and I started listening,” Baynes said. “You might not always have something to say, but you can always listen. Ever since that, I’ve wanted to read and find out and hear other people’s truths.”

Since bouncing to Phoenix, Baynes said he’s looked up to head coach Monty Williams, who’s made the rounds himself this week speaking out against police violence and race-based injustice.

Baynes even said that among Australian basketball players, he’s learning to address and listen about the differences that make them who they are. For instance, Patty Mills was Baynes’ teammate in San Antonio as well as on the Australian national team, and is black.

But what brought Baynes to tears was a question about discussing these issues with his wife, and his difficulty walking in her shoes to understand the discrimination she faces as a black woman. It was heartbreaking and sincere.

These things are difficult to discuss, and it’s not lost on me that I’m a white messenger telling you about an NBA player’s black wife. We’ve shoved these conversations down into a hole and locked the lid for so long, and severely junked up the media and cultural environment in which they’re now being told.

Dave and I have privately worried that we have no black writers here at Bright Side to convey these ideas better than we could. We closed off the comments section when Dave wrote about Monty’s words because we worry that a website with a devoted community and active forum could devolve into the wrong kind of debate in a hurry.

I’m sure Baynes is struggling with the same challenges. He pledged to listen more than anything else during his press conference. He centered his thoughts around his family and his lived experience, and his coach. He’s not pretending to know the answers.

We’ve tried to give you these players’ and coaches’ thoughts unadulterated here on the site, and I hope it doesn’t come off as too one-sided. While I don’t see police violence and the disproportionate killing of black people at the hands of law enforcement as an either/or issue, I respect that there are several layers of debate to be had within that.

So we put a megaphone to the voices you actually care about, the people who put on a jersey with the word “Phoenix” on it and represent this community in the NBA.

Today made me wonder whether we’re even doing that right.

Baynes was brought to tears thinking about the relationship with a wife he clearly loves deeply and whom he is having trouble helping right now. That’s powerful. And scary. And proof that sports is never just about sports, though I think we’re past that stupid belief, for the most part.

It’s not my place to dictate what the path toward true equality and righteousness looks like, but today made me wonder if watching a grown man bare his soul on Zoom was right, either. I hope you’ll all take the time to read and reflect on Baynes’ words, and that hearing it from the voice of a white foreigner provides a different perspective than you’re used to.

We’re still figuring this out. That’s the widest possible we I can muster, by the way. As Baynes did, all I can ask is that you listen. I am listening too, more than ever before.

Editor’s note

If the comment section devolves into a bad thing, we will close it off. I hope people use the comment section for positives and inclusiveness, rather than division.

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