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LI's Tobias Harris makes strong statement against racism

Philadelphia 76ers small forward Tobias Harris (12) reacts

Philadelphia 76ers small forward Tobias Harris (12) reacts during the second quarter against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden in New York, NY, on Saturday, Jan 18, 2020. Credit: Brad Penner

While the NBA will soon be heading back to the courts, Tobias Harris has used this time to take a stand on racism in America.

Harris, who grew up on Long Island, attending high school at Half Hollow Hills West and Long Island Lutheran before heading to the University of Tennessee and an NBA career that began in 2011, marched with protesters this past weekend. He then wrote about why he had to be with the protesters in a first-person account in The Players Tribune.

“I grew up on Long Island,” Harris wrote of his background. “I went to a predominantly white elementary school, a predominantly white middle school, and a predominantly white high school. I was always the athlete, the All-American.

“Everywhere I went, people knew who I was. They didn’t necessarily look at me like, "Look at that black kid." Even if they did in their head, I never got that kind of treatment. They looked at me like, "Oh, that’s Tobias Harris over there. He plays this, and this, and that." When I went to college, same exact thing. So to be honest, I always knew about the racism in this country, but in my personal life, things were a little sugarcoated in a way. I can admit that — because of the privilege I had growing up — I did not truly experience the worst of what black people go through.”

Harris, who was a first-round pick of the Orlando Magic in 2011 and went on to the Los Angeles Clippers before a trade to the Philadelphia 76ers in 2019, said his awakening to the issues came when he was a young player with Orlando shortly after the story of Trayvon Martin’s death became a national story.

“When I heard there was going to be a march in Philadelphia last weekend, all I could think about was 17-year-old Trayvon,” he wrote. “I was playing in Orlando about a year after he was killed. There was a march downtown while I was there, in 2013. By that time, it had gained a lot of steam on social media and whatnot with people wearing hoodies and everything. But I missed out on going to that march, and I’ve always regretted not being a part of that.

“It wasn’t even that I didn’t want to go. I was angry then, too. I’d had conversations about it with my teammates and friends. But if I’m being truthful, protesting just wasn’t at the forefront of my mind at the time. It seemed like, what could I add? It made me realize that I needed to educate myself a lot more. You have to be knowledgeable to be able to talk about this stuff and have a productive dialogue — especially being a person of influence and a role model to people, you got to be OK with talking. And you’ll only get to that point if you’re OK with yourself.

“I’ve educated myself on the world in the years since. I’m able to take myself out of the celebrity bubble and the profile that I’m at, and look at what black people are going through around the country. That’s why I’m saying my piece now. And I already know that some people won’t like it. There is still a stigma around talking openly about race. A hundred percent. But at this point, I don’t care,” he added. “I’m pushing people in my circle!! We gotta hold friends accountable, too. I’m pushing myself, my family, friends, and people around me — people that follow me, people that look up to me — to get uncomfortable. You have to. Ain’t no both sides.

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