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Why did Pope Francis just invite NBA players to the Vatican? Here's an in-depth look inside the inspiring trip.

The Vatican welcomes NBA players: Learn more about the historic trip

On Monday, Pope Francis welcomed five NBA players to the Vatican: Anthony Tolliver, Kyle Korver, Sterling Brown, Jonathan Isaac, and Marco Belinelli, as well as the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), Michele Roberts.

The reason for the visit

According to ESPN, the pope wanted to meet with the players so he could discuss social justice issues with them. He commended the players for speaking out against issues like police brutality & economic inequality.

At first, some thought it was a joke. Kyle Korver, who plays for the Milwaukee Bucks, said: “I thought it was a fraud email that I got. I called Michele right away. I was like, ‘Is this for real?’ She said, ‘Yes, it is and would you like to come in like two days?’ This came together really quick.”

The pope has been outspoken in his support for the Black Lives Matter movement and other anti-racism protests. According to Anthea Butler, a presidential visiting fellow at Yale Divinity School, Pope Francis “wants to send a very clear message” to Catholics that support Donald Trump that racism is “just as much an issue as abortion is”. 

The Vatican & racial justice

Anthea Butler further explained the Vatican is urging Catholics to “pay attention to the racism that is happening and the racism that is in your own church in America”. 

In fact, the Vatican has always condemned racial injustice. Dating back to Paul VI, popes have offered support for civil rights movements in the U.S., as well as Martin Luther King Jr.’s sentiment of nonviolent protest. In a historic speech to the U.S. Congress in 2015, Pope Francis recited some of King’s famous words. He also met with King’s daughter.

The pope himself once said in a speech: “We cannot close our eyes to any form of racism or exclusion.”

The visit itself

Apparently, the meeting was a big success. Tolliver, who plays power forward for the Memphis Grizzlies, said in an NBPA news release: “Today’s meeting was an incredible experience. With the Pope’s support and blessing, we are excited to head into this next season reinvigorated to keep pushing for change and bringing our communities together.”

Korver added: “[the Pope] said sport is such an opportunity to unify, and he compared it to a team, where you have a common goal and you’re working together, but you all use your own personalities.”

A video of the meeting shows the players giving the pope a number of gifts, including an Orlando Magic jersey. 

Michele Roberts corroborated Tolliver’s comments on the meeting, saying it confirmed the power of the players’ voices and inspired them to keep using them to incite positive change. “That one of the most influential leaders in the world sought to have a conversation with them demonstrates the influence of their platforms,” she said.

“I remain inspired by our players’ continued commitment to serve and support our community,” she continued.

The future

The league has been pretty vocal in its call for change last season after the murder of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis in police custody. This is an incident that inspired the world to continue to fight back against systemic racism & injustice.

Though the season was originally put on hold due to COVID-19 restrictions, they recently started up again inside a biosecure bubble in Florida in which players wore social justice messages on their jerseys and “Black Lives Matter” printed on the basketball courts.

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The regular NBA season is scheduled to start on December 22nd. We can only hope that, with the Pope’s inspiring new words, the players will continue to seek justice louder than ever.

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