Kofi Cockburn: “can’t we all agree that racism is a nasty thing?”

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Sophomore Illini Center Kofi Cockburn met the media this morning, via Zoom, wearing a t-shirt that read “More than an Athlete.” It perfectly summated both he himself, and the theme of the session. Jumping straight into Q&A, he gave a lot of honest and open answers in response to plenty of uncomfortable questions.

At no point was he visibly uncomfortable or annoyed, during the 50 minute Zoom call. The star big man recognizes the very large platform he has as an Illini basketball star, and all the influence that comes with it. 

With just under 11,000 followers on Twitter and another 55 and a half grand on Instagram, he knows his words and actions loom large. He answered queries that were about a lot more than just basketball today, but there was plenty of hoops talk too. 

Right now is not really the time for that, however, and if you still don’t get that, well then you’re just not paying close enough attention.

What’s happening in our country right now, and most specifically at this moment in Kenosha, WI is nothing short of a total reckoning on the issues of race and social justice. Also, the #BlackLivesMatter movement, with its slogan #NoJusticeNoPeace is dominating conversations on all basketball teams, college and pro.

When the NBA walked out of their postseason last night, refusing to play in honor of the Black Lives Matter cause, it was an Earth shattering moment historically. At least four of the reporter Q&As today covered issues of race and social justice, but the biggest message that Kofi wants to send to all that would listen is one of empathy.

“Everybody knows what’s right from wrong. I don’t understand, can’t we all agree that racism is a nasty thing?” he asked rhetorically Thursday morning. “So why doesn’t everbody else understand? Put yourself in someone else’s shoes.”

Kofi Cockburn says he never really witnessed the level of racism that he’s seen in the United States, until he came here from Jamaica. The Kingston native moved to New York City before joining the Illini and relocating to Champaign.

“Coming here and witnessing it, seeing how insane it is, it’s really important we use our voice,” Cockburn said.

“Especially since we have this platform where everybody is watching us and people look up to us.”

The NBA shut down the playoffs last night, with both Los Angeles teams voting to end the postseason. All other teams still alive in the tournament voted to continue. We’ll see who plays or not tonight, but Kofi Cockburn was really impressed by the gravity of the situation involving the NBA walkout.

Last night was truly a monumentally historic event in sports history.

“I think that’s really big,” he said.

“The NBA inspires a lot of kids, a lot of people. If NBA does that, the kids are really going to gravitate towards that. When the kids do that, hopefully the parents might do that too.”

 

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Kofi Cockburn on systemic racism, and the backlash against it in the United States right now: “People are hurting. Put yourself in their shoes. What if that was happening to you or your family member. You would want to speak out against it.”

We’ll have much more from Kofi Cockburn later tonight and this weekend, once the full video of today’s session becomes available and more quotes are transcribed.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly contributes to WGN TVSports IllustratedChicago Now and SB Nation.

You can follow Banks, a former writer for Chicago Tribune.comon Twitter and his cat on Instagram.

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