Pope Francis Meets with NBA Players at the Vatican to Discuss Social Justice

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistNovember 23, 2020

Pope Francis waves as he arrives for the Angelus noon prayer from the window of his studio overlooking St.Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Alessandra Tarantino/Associated Press

An NBA delegation is meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican after the league took a leadership role in the social justice movement this summer.

According to Zach Lowe of ESPN, the players in attendance Monday are Sterling Brown, Kyle Korver, Anthony Tolliver, Jonathan Isaac and Marco Belinelli. NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts was among the players' union officials to also attend the private meeting in the papal library of the Apostolic Palace.

The pope's office reportedly reached out to set up the meeting, indicating he wanted to learn more about the NBA's plans going forward.

While the NBA was on hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic, several players took part in protests against police brutality following the killing of George Floyd. The movement continued in conjunction with the NBA during the restart as players put social justice messages on their jerseys while the courts read "Black Lives Matter."

After Jacob Blake was shot by police officers in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play their playoff game, spurring a leaguewide protest for multiple days. Teams and players in other leagues, including the WNBA, MLB and NHL, among others, also participated in protests that led to games being postponed.

Brown, who has reached a settlement in his lawsuit against the city of Milwaukee after his own encounter with police officers there, represented the Bucks in reading a statement after the protest:

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Korver was also a member of the Bucks during the protest.

Isaac could provide a different perspective, notably standing for the national anthem while teammates knelt in protest. He became an ordained minister in March and referenced his faith in making a decision to stand.

"I feel like for me Black lives are supported through the Gospel," he said in July. "All lives are supported through the Gospel."

Tolliver is the secretary-treasurer of the players' union, while Belinelli is one of the league's most prominent players from Italy.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis touched on social justice this summer following worldwide protests.

"My friends, we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life," he said in June.

The players are expected to return to the United States on Tuesday.