When Joakim Noah walked into a park one afternoon several years ago to play a pick up game with some local kids, he never expected the journey that followed.
“Some lady, she was probably 25 or 26 years old, she was crying. I said ‘why are you crying? Everything is good, we are having a good time’. She was telling me a story about how her brother was shot to death in the same park we were playing in,” Noah recounts in a self-produced documentary. “As much as I wanted to help, sometimes the best thing to do is just listen.”
Joakim Noah has continued to be an active advocate for gun violence since that afternoon in the park in 2015. He produced a documentary called You’re Not Alone that featured family and friends of victims of gun violence sharing their stories, including the NBA’s Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson and Nazr Mohammed.
Noah and his mother, Cecilia Rodhe, started the Noah’s Arc Foundation to work with young people in Chicago affected by gun violence. They aim to provide these kids opportunities through sports and arts to make a positive impact in their communities.
And now, Noah joins fellow professional athletes 2-time WNBA champion Devereaux Peters and Xavier Rhodes, Delanie Walker and DeAndre Washington of the NFL to form the Everytown Athletic Council.
BACKGROUND ON THE COUNCIL
The council was launched by Everytown for Gun Safety on National Gun Violence Awareness Day last month, and per Everytown, will work with the organization to encourage people to join the movement and support common-sense solutions to reduce gun violence nationwide. Its founding members are each finding different ways to raise awareness that will help to end gun violence.
For example, earlier this month, Delanie Walker of the Tennessee Titans handed out information about safe storage to parents at his football camp in the Los Angeles area. In the spring, Devereaux Peters traveled to Springfield, IL with chapters of Moms Demand Action to participate in a lobby day and delivered remarks at the Illinois state capitol.
“The movement to end gun violence is really important to me and my family,” Noah says in a press release from Everytown about the council.
The council was formed with the support of The Ascendant Athlete, an organization that works with athletes and teams to achieve a deeper level of impact on social justice issues at both the community and national levels. The organization’s mission is to “provide tailor-made services to support professional athletes and sports franchises to advance social justice progress while positioning themselves for long-term success in their careers and communities.”
“This Council has an incredible opportunity to reduce gun violence,” said Ben Orbach, CEO of the Ascendant Athlete. “A hundred people are killed every day in America from gun violence that ranges from suicide to city gun violence to domestic violence,” he continued.
“The athletes who have formed this council genuinely care about this issue. All of them have been touched in a personal way by gun violence and their efforts in their home and team communities are part of a grassroots process to improve our culture and to communicate a message that each of us has the opportunity to be a part of this change, whether it is through our own behavior and actions or by the actions we demand of our representatives in public office.”
THE EVERYTOWN ATHLETIC COUNCIL MEMBERS
Two-time WNBA Champion Devereaux Peters has been an active advocate for gun safety, writing an op-ed for the Chicago Sun Times in 2018 about the need for federal gun safety laws to stem the crisis. She starts out her op-ed with the following powerful quote, “I live in Chicago, not ‘Chiraq.’ Chicago is my city, and I love it. Calling it Chiraq is an insulting, misguided attempt to describe and to cast blame for the gun violence that plagues us. Instead of constantly trying to use my city as a scapegoat when violence occurs, we need to recognize that gun violence is a national issue and not just a local one.”
“Gun violence is an issue that impacts all Americans, and athletes can act as an important bridge, connecting voices who need to be heard with this larger movement that is demanding change,” Peters said on joining the Everytown Athletic Council.
NFL player Delanie Walker is a gun owner, and supports the movement to encourage people to be safe with guns they do own and avoid tragic accidents. “As a responsible gun owner, I want to help as many people as possible understand how to store guns safely and to protect our kids. As athletes, we have these platforms and can be leaders in that cultural change,” he said on joining the council.
Xavier Rhodes met in May with a group of gun violence survivors in the Minneapolis area, including the Taylor Hayden Memorial Fund to End Gun Violence. Rhodes listened to Taylor’s family tell her story; Taylor was a Minneapolis native who was killed in a senseless shooting during a weekend trip to Atlanta.
DeAndre Washington is personally affected by the gun violence issue as are many Americans. His best friend Taeisha Watkins was killed when two men shot into a crowded street in New Orleans, where she was on vacation with friends. He has been actively raising awareness for gun safety ever since. “It was senseless,” he told People Magazine. He wore cleats to support the March for Our Lives movement during the NFL’s My Cause, My Cleats program last season.
He told the Oakland Raiders, “It’s just a way that I want to honor her with a small gesture. That’s kind of how mine came about. March For [Our] Lives – basically an organization against gun violence – I just wanted to bring awareness to gun violence, so [my shoes] are orange, and I’ll be representing her.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF ATHLETE VOICES
It’s important for pro athletes to understand the influence they have over change makers in any industry. As an athlete, you can secure meetings and open doors that many people aren’t able to access. Fair or not, people want to be around the athlete’s “star power”. The key here is for athletes to be able to use that influence to create something sustainable for the community or make progress towards solutions for issues that matter to them. It’s great to see that the athletes involved with Everytown Athletic Council have a true passion for gun violence prevention and are working hard to make change. (Read more on ways to be an athlete activist here).
With the help of The Ascendant Athlete, movements and organizations like Everytown for Gun Safety gains valuable support and awareness from change agents in the pro sports community. And in turn, athletes are educated on how to appropriately support the causes that matter to them and be a part of something bigger than sports.