Why Caron Butler Is Optimistic About The Social Change The NBA Helped Inspire In 2020

Throughout the summer, Caron Butler has been a leader within the NBA in the league’s efforts to educate fans about systemic racism, how it affects the athletes of the league and their communities, and what the league is doing and can do about it.

After hosting a series of roundtables centered on the protests against police brutality that raged all summer, Butler pivoted to hosting “1-on-1 With Caron Butler” on the NBA’s YouTube and social media feeds. On the show, he hosted everyone from WNBA star Natasha Cloud and NBA players’ association head Chris Paul to leaders from the political and activist community.

The two-time All-Star and 2011 NBA champion caught up with DIME to discuss the series, his thoughts on the players’ and league’s work this summer, and what comes next after the election.

We’re talking the day after the election and that’s obviously been a big date looming all year, so I’m curious now that results are starting to get finalized, how do you think people will remember the part the NBA and WNBA and athletes in general played in this year’s campaign?

Well, I think that I give so much credit to the NBA for providing us with a large platform, because what has happened in the past is, you have had, you know, so much bravery and people have had discussions amongst each other in locker rooms, and things like that. But we needed larger platforms to echo our concerns and what we were extremely passionate about. And I felt like through tragedy, with the death of George Floyd, Ahmad Arbery, and countless others, it was a silver lining, and a time for all of us as a collective to come together and to stand on the right side of justice.

I think guys took that upon themselves, as leaders in these communities and say, Look, we’ve been doing impactful stuff for quite some time. The giveaways, you know, coming into the communities, but let’s amplify that. And, you know, drive real change, and now you’re seeing it in the numbers.

When we think about the players in our association, over 96 percent of them are registered to vote and have voted. And I think that that’s a huge thing. And when you think about all the coalition’s that have been collectively put together, you know … from I Am A Voter, When We All Vote, the More Than A Vote initiative, it’s just been amazing to watch that momentum just kind of happen.

You mentioned some of those organizations, a lot of it was geared around voting, increasing turnout, increasing turnout among, Black people and communities of color, things like that, that are not necessarily priorities for national organizations, but that are priorities for so many of the players that come from those communities. Does that say to you that that focus was on the right thing and ended up being successful?

Yeah, it was great. But I want to rewind for a second, (because) you said something that was extremely important. And it’s like, we come from these communities, right, these urban communities, and we’re trying to shine a light on a lot of situations, but also, the people that don’t look like us, I thought it was extremely important for us to have this large platform. So people can really see what’s some of the problems is that you wasn’t raised in and you feel doesn’t exist.

The large majority has come to the conclusion that racism is real, all these isms, when you talk about suppression, you know, what’s happened in this country for centuries, and that has been swept under the rug needed to need to have a bright light shined on it. And that’s exactly what we did.

That does transition a little bit to what you did with your show, because obviously, I think that can go a long way in opening people’s eyes to some things, especially, you know, if you’re catching an NBA fan who might not be active in those types of spaces normally. How did you hope that the 1-on-1 series would help what so many of the players are already doing with regard to voting and education and things like that? What else did you hope to accomplish with those interviews?

Well, I wanted to amplify all of our voices. … They gave us a massive platform that they, you know, they shared, shared, people started getting engaged. And then it was just it took on a life of its own. But also, I think that, you know, every show, I’ve learned something. I’ve been Black my entire life. That’s something that never changed. And I’m so proud of it. And I’ve been able to, you know, talk about some of the things that I’ve personally experienced, about racism, about being profiled, and all these different trainings. I was incarcerated, I went through the system. I know what’s wrong with the system. It’s fractured in multiple ways.

Having (Equal Justice Initiative executive director) Brian Stevenson on, having (former Obama administration senior adviser) Valerie Jarrett on, to talk about everything that’s fractured about our system, how there are some amazing things about our system as well. But it’s things that we can really do as collectives to come together and get bills passed. We talk about the three branches of government, and how that performs and how that works. All these people still represent the people and they’re in elected positions. And I had to repeat that multiple times on the show when we talked about the three branches of government, because everybody was worried about Nov. 3, Election Day, but it’s other elections that we need to be concerned about, that really make up and create this democracy that that we’re a part of and that we live in.

It’s a trickle down effect. … You know, we’ve learned about the three branches of government, and then all of a sudden we got away from it. So all it came down to was just the presidential election. Did you vote in the midterms? Do you know who your local senator is? Do you know your lieutenant governor? Your sheriff? You hear all these people, the district attorney, and the mayor and all these things. I was just like, man, it’s so important for us, as you know, those that have massive platforms and influencers to have relationships with these people. And if they don’t have a proposal on our community, if they don’t have a proposal on some of our concerns and things that we’re passionate about, then you have to make sure that you vote them out. That is your right. And I think that people just got away from that because they felt like their vote didn’t matter.

I wanted them to know, everyone that tuned in, that your vote does matter. Your influence is needed. And it is desperately needed in this time. I feel like this (was) the most important election of our lifetime, but it’s not the only election that we should be concerned about. So I got better from every conversation that I had over 41 episodes. And I know our viewers and listeners did as well. I’m still getting DMs and all that just saying like, wow, like that was a powerful episode. With that guest, I never knew that, I learned so much. It was just a blessing to be a part of.

One of the things you just said I think is one thing that I really noticed as well, which is you interviewed, like you said, everyone from a former White House adviser like Valerie Jarrett, all the way down to Detlef Schrempf, who, you know, most people wouldn’t even think of as somebody who might be involved with American politics or communities in this country, because they would just think, oh, he’s a foreign player. So why was it important to you to interview such a wide array of people and get such a wide array of voices involved in this, this series?

That’s because that’s where real change happened. Because you’re able to see the world through the lenses of so many different individuals. This was a bipartisan platform, right. We didn’t, favor, any left, right, anything, we were just having real discussions and real dialogue on some of the things that, you know, our concerns, and we all came in with opinions.

I think that’s the beauty about, you know, just having these conversations and having a large platform and these conversations, and I think viewers and listeners all walked away with something that you can just reset, add to the fabric of your life, and go out there and influence you to be a better version of yourself, and also use that, that insight you learned off the platform to influence others.

When you were talking about defunding the police, and things like that, and, you know, what does that really mean? You know, when you hear that it sounds like an ugly word, like you want to just walk away, but this is talking about reallocating capital in different places and bringing resources back to, you know, the communities that are most affected. It opened up your eyes to just different things and to view the world through a different lens. And I thought that was extremely important, having a wide range of people on.

Was there any one interview that surprised you most, or a tidbit you gleaned from someone you spoke with for this series that you weren’t expecting?

I was thinking about Mitch Landrieu and I was thinking about how some of the efforts that he was doing that I had mentioned, Mitch Landrieu, Mark Morial, the president of the National Urban League, and those are the visuals, the platforms that we share. It was amazing, because I never knew that he was responsible for taking [down] some of the Confederate-style statues and things like that, you know, in the rural part of Louisiana, and I was like, wow, like, he took that step.

Once, it wasn’t talked about enough, when he pivoted into that space, and also just the bravery of, you know, him going down that path and doing that, but I didn’t even know you can take that. And it opened my eyes to the history that, you know, I pass by every day in my life. I’m from a predominantly white state, Wisconsin. And, seeing some of the statues, that was an educational lesson for me. I start pulling over and reading some of the statue spots, I would pull over and just read like, what is this a representation of?

Every NBA fan knows who Caron Butler is. Like you’re an All-Star, an NBA champion. We know who you are. But I think it would surprise fans necessarily to see like that you’ve been such a leader in this space, they might assume it would be, you know, always a Chris Paul, always a LeBron James, what led to you kind of taking on this role in the league? Did you maintain a relationship doing some of these types of things in the past few years? What made it so that you were the guy doing this show?

This has been the story of my life. I’m glad you asked that question, because this is not something that I’ve come into. I’ve been true to this my entire life. I’m 40 years old, and my entire career has been, you know, just giving back, educating, informing, and giving back to my community in a real way. I’ve always celebrated Juneteenth Day. It’s been our independence day, for as long as I can remember.

I’ve always been informed and educated. My grandparents came from the cotton fields of Mississippi. They migrated up north to Wisconsin, you know, for assembly line work at JIKs factory. So I was always informed and educated about the fabric of how this country was functioning, and I was always taught to stay true to my roots and for my history. So, fast forward to 20 plus years of living this way, and having a great relationship with the NBA. They just amplify my voice, they amplify my athletes and all of our effort.

It usually goes to the poster child, you know, the LeBron James, the Giannis, the Chris Pauls, and all these guys, but to for the NBA to pivot and say, you know, what, we know that you live this life, as part of the fabric of everything that you are, you know, we’re going to give you a platform to just inform, educate, and, you know, do what you do best and it’s not something that’s reaching or anything, because this is who you are. We’re just going to just record you being who you are.

To turn back to the election for another question, we don’t know exactly the results of every single race up and down throughout the country. But I think it’s fair to say that there was maybe some hope that this thing would have been a landslide in the other direction. And it’s shown to be pretty close. It’s shown that there’s still division here, there’s still a long way to go to get things in line with a lot of the issues you talked about in this series, and that we’ve talked about in our conversation. Do you think of it as a disappointment that some of the voices you had on your show and some of the voices you’ve uplifted, didn’t necessarily come through as much as they could have last night?

I think that the voices in the people that really, you know, drove change, they did all that they could and they left it out there. This is a marathon, it’s not a sprint, and you got to have endurance in a race like this. We’re talking about our democracy, we’re talking about centuries of something that has been a certain way for quite some time, and how suppression and all these things are amplified.

Now morally, right, I felt some type of way last night, just because of the climate of our country, and, you know, people, the energy, and the lack of empathy around the country. But at the same time, you know, I was, I was rather disappointed, but I’m still hopeful, because I know that through mail-in ballots, and through all these things, people are really, you know, showing up. We set record numbers in certain states. In Wisconsin, this was turnout, that, that that was just extremely impactful for us. It was decided in 2016 by 20,000 votes but now it looks like, you know, Biden is pretty much gonna win that, and I was just, you know, I was hopeful about that, because I know that people put their best foot forward to do the right thing there.

But, look, it’s not gonna be fixed this calendar year. And I said that multiple times on the show, you know, all the things that existed in this country for quite some time, they continue to get swept under the rug, it’s going to gradually change. But the thing I’m hopeful about, you know, 2035, 2040, these teenagers, these kids, the next wave, they’re starting to get engaged into politics. They’re starting to get engaged to who their representatives are, who represents them, who has a pulse on these communities.

I sat down yesterday watching the election, my 16-year-old daughter, my 17-year-old neighbor, 18-year-old son, everybody’s just like, you know, what, I can drive change, I can make a difference. Like, when I was that age, I didn’t care about those things. But now kids, you know, the younger next wave, they’ve started getting engaged. And let’s face it, we are the new ancestors. And I was inspired by them, because we’re using our platform to inspire with all the resources, but imagine what the next wave are going to be like, when it becomes the majority.