An assortment of NFL players have expressed the hope that a prominent white professional athlete would join in the National-Anthem-tied cause for social change as it relates to police conflicts with African-Americans.
Those players now have a champion — an unlikely one, to some in Dirk Nowitzki.
"Everybody has freedom of speech in this country; that's why we all love this country,’’ said Nowitzki on Monday during the Dallas Mavericks’ Media Day. "I think it's definitely started a discussion.’'
Agree or disagree with the specific actions or even the movement triggered by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Nowitzki’s point is inarguable: The issue is now highlighted. Conversations are occurring. Anger may be heightened, but so is awareness.
And the Mavs, led by their all-time icon Nowitzki, plan to be part of the issue, the conversation, the awareness.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA Players Association have agreed to work together to take “meaningful action’’ and the Mavs are also unified here, coach Rick Carlisle saying he and team owner Mark Cuban are “100-percent’’ behind their players’ decisions.
Mavs emotional leader Wesley Matthews said, “We’re going to do it the right way — as a team. And we’re going to do it with communication.’'
The NBA, more than the NFL, is an international game. Maybe that makes it easier for NBA players to comprehend differences of opinion, and the rights of Americans, than is the case elsewhere. New Mavs center Andrew Bogut, a native of Australia, said developing relationships with African-American players has widened his world view.
"The message,’’ Bogut said, "has hit home.”
That’s an important answer for players like Cliff Avril of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, who recently said, “If somebody like, say, Aaron Rodgers got behind us, I think it would touch home for a lot more people. At the same time, I see why they probably wouldn’t, because they don’t know what we’re going through.”
Added Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, as quoted by the Seattle Times: “You need a white guy to join the fight. The white guy is super-important to the fight.''
None of us can really walk in another’s shoes. But Nowitzki is unique. He recently said he’s teaching his children to be “try-lingual.’’ They speak English. He teaches them German. Wife Jessica, who is Swedish-Kenyan, teaches the kids Swedish. Nowitzki is a proud Texan, is proud of his German heritage and is a citizen of the planet.
In that sense, he’s the ideal “white guy’’ to lend a voice to the conversation.