Pope Francis praises NBA players during a meeting at the Vatican to discuss social justice

A contingent of NBA players and NBPA officials traveled to the Vatican to meet with Pope Francis to discuss social justice and activism on Monday, according to ESPNZach Lowe. The meeting was reportedly set up last week, when an intermediary reached out and indicated that Pope Francis was interested in learning more about his activism and how it will evolve in the future.

Five players made the trip, according to Lowe. Longtime union leaders Kyle Korver and Anthony Tolliver attended the meeting. In 2019, Korver wrote an essay for The Player’s Tribune detailing his experience of white privilege in the NBA. He also played for the Milwaukee Bucks, who went on a wildcat strike during the first round of the postseason that suspended the game for several days.

“We are very honored to have had this opportunity to come to the Vatican and share our experiences with Pope Francis,” Korver said through the Associated Press. “His openness and enthusiasm to discuss these issues was inspiring and a reminder that our work has had a global impact and must continue to move forward.”

Pope Francis praised the players for their fight for social justice and for being role models not only for the very young, but also for how everyone must fight against racism and intolerance.

“You are champions,” Pope Francis said. “But also by giving the example of teamwork, you have become a model, giving that good example of teamwork but always being humble … and preserving your own humanity.”

Another member of the 2019-20 Bucks, Sterling Brown, also made the trip. Brown was involved in a notorious case of police brutality when he was approached and attacked by officers in Milwaukee. Also in attendance was Jonathan Isaac, an ordained minister. His decision to perform the national anthem in the Orlando bubble was based in part on his religious beliefs. Marco Belinelli, a native Italian, completed the group.

The meeting took place in the papal library of the Apostolic Palace, and the players are expected to return to the United States on Tuesday, when they will address the media. NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts traveled with the players and also attended the meeting.

Social justice was at the forefront of the final NBA season in Orlando. “Black Lives Matter” was painted on the courts. The uniforms carried messages of social justice. Players and owners formed a joint social justice coalition to further enhance the league’s efforts on that front, and the league created a $ 300 million fund for the economic empowerment of the black community. These have been significant steps, but both the league and its players recognize how far there is to go. An encounter with one of the most influential people in the world is another step in the right direction.

This story was originally published by CBS Sports on November 23, 2020.

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