WASHINGTON — Georgetown became the latest athletes — and the first college basketball players — to wear ‘I Can’t Breathe’ t-shirts.
On Wednesday night, while hosting No. 10 Kansas on national television, Georgetown’s men’s basketball team entered the Verizon Center floor for their final warmup wearing the black shirts with white words in support of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who died after being placed in a chokehold by a police officer. He died while saying “I Can’t Breathe,” and it was all caught on video. On December 3, a grand jury declined to indict the officer.
It was a team decision to wear the shirts, one made collectively between the players and the coaching staff.
“It was quite a few families who lost a loved one this year with the Michael Brown case and Trayvon Martin also,” D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. “We really wanted to represent those families that all lost someone. It wasn’t just this one scenario that a lot of people walked for that one case. I just thought that we wanted to represent the families and send our condolences that way.”
The shirts weren’t meant to be a statement against the police or a protest regarding the lack of a conviction in the Garner, Brown and Martin cases, the players said.
“We didn’t wear the shirts to say that the cops were wrong or the system was wrong,” Josh Smith said. “No matter how you look at it, we don’t know who was right or wrong but they still lost somebody and they won’t get that person back. That was just the main reason why we wanted to wear the shirts, to say that we are aware of what is going on. We’re not choosing sides, we’re not saying one side is wrong, one side is right.”
The decision to wear the shirts didn’t come easily, Georgetown head coach John Thompson III said. He wanted to make sure that this was not simply an effort to be a part of a fad. He didn’t want his team making this statement because, as JT III put it, “it’s trending”. LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Derrick Rose, the Los Angeles Lakers and members of the Brooklyn Nets have worn ‘I Can’t Breathe’ shirts in the NBA. NFL players have worn the shirts as well, and members of the St. Louis Rams entered a game in the ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ pose two weeks ago.
“We have had a lot of discussions and the emotions, as it relates to the protest that the guys wanted to do today and the emotions and the feelings in the locker room are all over the place, meaning not necessarily everyone feels the same way,” Thompson said.
The team watched the Ferguson decision together during the team’s trip to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis, Thompson said, which is when the idea for this statememt was first brought up.
“It’s something they wanted to do,” Thompson said, “and after talking with them and understanding and making sure they understood the importance of what it means as opposed to let’s just do this, I agreed.”
The press conference after the game was tense, as one reporter asked whether the players had ever interacted with the police. When another reporter tried to ask Thompson about his father’s reputation for speaking out on what he deemed right, the elder Thompson spoke up from the back of the room.
“What did he say? It’s a f-cking school, man. It’s your responsibility to deal with things like that,” he said. “This isn’t a pro team.”