Draymond Green is known as a Golden State Warrior power forward, an NBA defensive player of the year, an all-star and a two-time NBA champion. But he is also a philanthropist, an athlete-activist with a deep interest in social justice and a person unafraid to speak his mind.
In town to face off against the Boston Celtics, Green took a break from his game-day routine on Thursday (Nov. 16) to visit Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), speaking with assistant professor of public policy Leah Wright Rigueur and a few hundred students and fans about professional athletes and issues of race and inequality.
Citing his community work with organizations such as the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (a nonprofit dedicated to using sports to improve race relations), his $3.1 million donation to his alma mater Michigan State University, and his active social media profile, Wright Rigueur asked Green if athletes have a particular responsibility to act on issues of social importance.
“A lot times people say that athletes shouldn’t speak politics. Well, I find that funny because everyone thinks they can speak basketball."
“There’s this really long history of athletes, particularly black athletes, of being leaders,” Wright Rigueur said. “Everyone from Jackie Robinson to Muhammad Ali to Jim Brown on the football field: they all got engaged with interesting projects, both socially and politically. Do you think athletes have a responsibility to engage?”
“The best things we do in life usually happen when we feel good about something, when it’s genuinely what we want to do,” Green replied. “If someone makes you go to class, you’re there because someone made you go to class. Now, if you go to class because you want to be there, you’re paying much more attention, you’re taking notes, you’re just much more involved. It’s the same thing when we talk about the responsibility of athletes. Every athlete has a right to speak out and it’s their responsibility if they want it to be.”
Green fielded a series of questions from students. One student asked him what his response was to people who say, “You should just stick to basketball.”
“A lot of times, people say that athletes shouldn’t speak politics,” Green said. “Well, I find that funny because everyone thinks they can speak basketball. We spend our entire lives working on our craft and then someone will come on Twitter and say “Hey Draymond, you suck.” ... As Americans, we’re all affected by politics, one way or another, so I don’t see the problem with athletes speaking out about politics.”
Another student asked Green where he got his energy and enthusiasm. Green said it came from a deep love of basketball, and from his mother pushing him to fight for what he believed and what he wanted. Sometimes, Green said, that enthusiasm can wane, and it’s important to know how to respond.
“For the things you all stand for as students, people are going to fight you for,” Green said. “And when you lose that enthusiasm because they’re fighting you, you’re not wrong. ... Don’t be afraid to go for it. Don’t be afraid to fight for whatever it is that you’re fighting for.”