Jeremy Lin signed a 3-year, $36 million contract this summer to play point guard for the Brooklyn Nets. With him, he brings a clean slate, a "new car smell" and a real opportunity to become a leader of a movement, both on and off the basketball court.
Earlier on Wednesday morning, video footage of an incident in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in which a man named Alton Sterling was confronted by police and, ultimately, shot and killed appeared on Twitter. Naturally, the footage was horrific and, as it should, it sparked outrage, questions and a call for answers. The incident started with a small groundswell of outrage on social before hitting the nation stage.
Lin was among the first to respond to the incident, with this tweet:
Two years ago, almost to the day, in a similar incident in Staten Island, New York, Eric Garner was killed by police officers who were trying to arrest him for selling cigarettes. The incident, along with others, brought to light the fact that there is a systematic problem in our country with how Black Lives are being treated by Police Officers, along with the counterargument that the cops are protecting their own lives -- Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter (also, Blue Lives Matter).
After the Garner incident, some NBAers formed a collective voice through silent protests, of sorts, in wearing "I Can't Breathe" t-shirts during warmups -- a direct reference to the Garner incident.
The Nets took part in the statement, led by Jarrett Jack, Kevin Garnett and Deron Williams.
At the time, Williams was the silent leader of the team. or he was supposed to be, and the "I Can't Breathe" sentiment became one of his loudest statements during his entire tenure with the Nets. Williams was never much of an outspoken leader, as he was more about cliches, excuses and "Ummms," than anything else.
Of the moment, though, Williams said, "I try to kinda distance myself from [social issues], but this is one where I kinda really paid attention and saw what was going on. I mean," he went on, "you can see the [Garner] video and you know what happened. It's not one of those things where people are saying this and the cops are saying that. It's there for you to see. You just feel bad that a man lost his life because of that."
Again, this was the most honest Williams may have been in a moment that was personal, difficult and, well, fleeting. It was the one and only moment where he dipped his toe into the social and cultural area -- a most difficult arena, at that!
Meanwhile, Lin has a large global following, with nearly 1.5 million followers on Twitter. He also happens to play in the world's largest market, where a simple tweet, a "gah damn" moment, can be deemed worthy of a post on a
stupid sports blog.
The reason being is, Lin has a chance to be something more than just a statement. He has an opportunity, now, to be a movement. Or, at the very least, inspire others to move. With his large global following, his diverse background, and the fact that he's openly a God-fearing man, Lin's compassion feels sincere and cuts through any bullshit meter.
Of course there will be the "just play basketball, bro" crowd and the "all lives matter, asshole" detractors who believe that Lin should just put up his 10 and 8 and leave everything else to the "rest of us." While Lin can do that, and do that while being handsomely rewarded, he can also be the voice that many need in a time like this.
Of course he doesn't owe it to us to take the wheel. That's a heavy burden and a lot to ask of any athlete. But, if he does decide to speak, many will listen. If he does decide to take action, a few will follow.
... On the other hand, if he decides to keep it personal, that's fine, too. We'll still continue to admire him as a man and the journey he's taken that's led him to Brooklyn.
Just seeing an honest, emotional reaction to an unsettling moment makes him a much braver man than most.