His mind. His ideals. His voice. Our country. Minnesota Timberwolves’ star Karl-Anthony Towns speaks out on Charlottesville, race, politics, athletes, and the state of the union.
In what has been a busy summer for the Timberwolves and for the NBA as a whole, Karl-Anthony Towns made headlines on Friday for his thoughts off the court.
Towns published a thoughtful, strongly worded, and heartfelt response to this month’s events in Charlottesville, Virginia in The Players’ Tribune.
Recently, NBA players such as Kevin Durant and Gordon Hayward have used this publication as a chance to tell their sides of the story when inking major free agent contracts. Towns, on the other hand, used it to speak up for a better social contract.
KAT, still only 21, has taken major strides towards superstardom on the court. He’s ready to lead the 2017-2018 Timberwolves back to the playoffs and may pick up an All-Star appearance and All-NBA nod on the way there. Now, Towns —armed with a strong persona, wisdom beyond his years, and a passion for social justice — has taken his first step towards superstardom outside the lines.
Rare is the star who becomes as well known off the field of play as he his on the field of play. Players tend to become famous for one or the other. Colin Kaepernick, for example, has dominated NFL headlines for taking a knee during “The Star-Spangled Banner”, but he never was a top-tier quarterback in the NFL. Michael Jordan, on the other hand, is the greatest basketball player of all-time yet has remained mostly quiet throughout his 30-plus years in the spotlight when it comes to social issues.
LeBron James, America’s current athletic king, has loudly spoken his mind on recent events, especially as they’ve related to Donald Trump and his response to Charlottesville.
James, in this case, is much closer to the rarified air of Muhammed Ali than he is to Jordan when it comes to standing up for justice. His ability to speak out on recent issues has, perhaps, inspired other players around the league to do the same, including the face of Minnesota’s franchise.
The Voice of KAT
Towns, in just two professional years, has welcomed all challengers both on and off the court. He treated a divisive national moment as a chance to share his story and speak up for what he believed was right. Fans who feel that athletes should be opinionless will have a problem with this essay, but Towns has a message for them:
"Basketball is what I do for a living, not who I am as a man. So as athletes we have a huge opportunity to support what we think is right and to speak up about what we think is wrong.And to anyone who says, “Stick to sports” … let’s be real: Our President used to host a reality TV show. You’re telling me I can’t voice a political opinion?"
Our political, social, entertainment and sporting lives all intermix. Towns and the millennial generation know this. It’s the world they’ve grown up in, and it’s the world they will be leading in the future.
As Minnesota Timberwolves fans, Towns brought up another sobering point as he recalled last year’s Philando Castile tragedy:
"It’s crazy because one year ago, I felt some of these same feelings. It was after I saw the video of Philando Castile being killed.Right in broad daylight. For doing nothing wrong. Right on Facebook.Right in St. Paul … my city.Philando’s city.My Timberwolves teammates and I talked about Philando after that tragedy and his name came up now and then over the last season — because, with that incident, it felt personal. It was a Twin Cities thing. It hit close to home. I don’t remember exactly what we said, but it was kind of like this: We’re all sitting there, as minorities in a league that’s mostly minority, and we’re wondering, What if I didn’t play in the NBA … would that be me?"
In the most directed, poignant remarks of his essay, Towns called out President Trump for his response, lack of leadership, and moral stance following the Charlottesville demonstrations.
"I was shocked by how our President responded to Charlottesville.Our President was given a layup: Denounce white supremacists.And he couldn’t … and wouldn’t.He missed … he missed badly.I think about it like this: The President’s response, in basketball terms … ’cause you may know I know a little about the sport … was just like catching the ball on a fast break — no one else is even past half court — and then tripping on your own feet inside the paint as the ball flies out of bounds.Should’ve been pretty easy.It’s disheartening when our President doesn’t understand his words carry a tremendous amount of weight. It’s really hard to see our President refuse to stand up for what’s right — at a time when the country needs it. Especially for minorities. It’s not like we’re talking about taxes or something. We’re talking about the big issue that has divided the country since its birth."
In the end, Towns recognizes his current visibility and his growing responsibility as an NBA star. As the Wolves begin their ascent in the NBA this season, Towns will find himself more and more in the national spotlight.
Don’t expect Mr. Towns to shy away from that attention, either. In fact, hours after The Players’ Tribune published Towns’ Charlottesville essay, KAT dawned these sneakers in the University of Kentucky’s alumni game:
Given the current political and social climate, this probably won’t be the last time we hear from Towns on the matter. It seems like he’s finding his voice both on and off the court.