PHOENIX – They grew up on different continents nearly 8,000 miles apart, with different life experiences in matters of race. But what two Arizona professional athletes did share is a desire to speak out about the protests over the death of George Floyd.
Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk grew up in Scottsdale, the son of a Black father and White mother. He remembers a conversation he had with her when he was 10.
“I give her so, so much props and the strength to be able to tell … your young children that unfortunately in this world, you’re going to be judged by the color of your skin,” Kirk said Wednesday.
Suns center Aron Baynes, who is white, grew up in Australia and believes he was part of the problem at a young age. He said he was “ignorant” and “uneducated,” but the game of basketball opened his eyes. At 16, Baynes’ basketball journey brought him to more multicultural areas and opened his mind.
“(I saw) the struggles that people were facing, and I saw that there were different sides of the tracks, and I started listening,” he said. “I think that’s one of the key things there is. You might not always have something to say, but you can always listen.”
Baynes was emotional as he spoke, reflecting on the protests throughout the country. His wife is Black, and they have two children and a third on the way.
He penned a powerful letter recently that condemned systemic racism.
“I do not understand firsthand how a lifetime or generations of being oppressed feels,” he wrote. “What I do know is it breaks my heart that people would judge my children, or any other child, based purely on the (color) of their skin. I now understand some of the fear, the anger, the helplessness and the resilience that is the fight for equality.”
After noticing his Instagram account was filled with black squares and the hashtag #blackouttuesday recently, Baynes felt the need to speak up.
“There wasn’t enough words being spoken there, there wasn’t enough being said about it,” he said. “It was taking away from the issue from something that is dear to me and something that affects the life of my family, which is what I put first and foremost.
“It’s about listening and understanding each other and then supporting them and trying to work towards building a stronger group and trying to impact their countries and communities and the world as best we can.”
Kirk said he and multiple family members have been racially profiled, but that hasn’t stopped Kirk’s mother, Melissa, and sister from trying to change things.
“She’s been advocating and speaking out on social media actively and in signing petitions, donating and just doing everything to help change,” he said. “My youngest sister went to the protests downtown, you know, every single day, and just … showed so much strength throughout this time.”
Kirk’s legacy is important to him as well as what he will share with the people around him.
“To be able to look forward to the future and being able to tell them, when I’m older, what I did during this time and how I helped impact change on this country … is the exciting part,” he said.
Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said there is great value in players speaking out.
“I have to be a guy who listens more, learns more and understands more,” he said. “There is so much that we can all do and being in a position of power and working with these guys, I am right at the top of that.”