LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Keion Brooks Jr. is doing his part to make a difference.
Brooks, a member of the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Player Development Coalition and the Southeastern Conference Council on Racial Equality and Social Justice, spoke out Friday on the recent civil unrest across the country.
“I want to push my prayers out to Jacob Blake and his family,” he said on a Zoom call Friday. “I’m praying for justice for Breonna Taylor and her family.”
Blake, 29, was paralyzed after police shot him seven times in the back in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last Sunday. Taylor, 26, was shot and killed by law enforcement officers on March 13 in her apartment in Louisville.
When Brooks was approached by Kentucky coach John Calipari to join the coalition, he didn’t hesitate on the opportunity to make a difference.
“It’s about player empowerment (and) teaching players you're not just a basketball player. You have a voice, a platform, and a right to use it. I feel like players’ voices aren’t being heard as much as they should," he said. "The players are the NCAA at the end of the day. We’re the ones going out there sacrificing our bodies. With the coalition, we can educate athletes to let them know they’re more than just a person that plays their sport.”
Brooks voiced his support for the Kentucky football team’s one-day walkout to make a stand against police brutality.
“I’m a believer in once you get their attention, you have to follow that up with something,” said Brooks. “You can’t just take that stand and then not have plans of action to go forward. I really like what the football team did, and I can’t wait to see what they do next.”
As for his own well-being, Brooks voiced concern for his own safety.
“I’m a Black male,” he said. “And at times I feel like we’re being hunted. When it really hit me, there was a time where I cut my hair. I was just holding my phone one day, and when the phone is on the lock screen you can see a reflection of yourself. I looked at my reflection, and I thought, ‘Wow, I kind of look like George Floyd right now.’ It made me realize that could have been me. Could’ve been my brother. Could’ve been one of my teammates. It just made me want to do more to do what I can to help.”
Brooks also applauded Calipari’s recent talk to the team on the importance of voting.
“Coach Cal explained to us that the first action we can take, that’s guaranteed, is we can vote,” said Brooks. “Go to the polls or get our absentee ballot, and we can make a difference. That’s one (thing) we know for sure we have the power to do.”
Brooks plans to continue to use his platform to promote change.
“I think people have a difficult time separating the athlete from the sport that they play,” he said. “Just because I represent Kentucky basketball, that does not mean I’m not a person who has morals, values, and views on certain things. We have strong views on topics just like the fans do, and they just want us to go out there, entertain them for an hour or two, and just shut up. I don’t see why they would think that way. That’s not going to work. That’s not how this is. I’m praying for them (and) hopefully they can see change."
Brooks also voiced his support for a name change at Rupp Arena.
"Being honest, I haven't educated myself well enough on Adolph, on Rupp, or just the whole situation at hand to really give you my thoughts on it," Brooks said. "But from what I do know, I would like to see a name change, just basically because of what his name is, what it's connected to, what it kind of represents. I would like to see a name change."
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.