By Cody Westerlund-
CHICAGO (CBS) – Derrick Rose flashed a side of himself Saturday that we rarely see, then disappeared into the night to not be heard from after making a statement on a hot-button social issue.
In pregame warmups ahead of Chicago’s 112-102 loss to Golden State at the United Center, Rose donned a black T-shirt with “I can’t breathe” inscribed on it, a slogan in memory of Eric Garner, a black man who died in July after a white police officer put him in a chokehold after he was apprehended on suspicion of selling loose cigarettes in Staten Island, N.Y. Garner’s final, fateful words were captured on video, and national protests erupted earlier this week when a grand jury chose not to indict the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, who used lethal force.
Police brutality against blacks exists as a major problem, and it’s under a microscope, as it rightfully should be.
While it’s news for any prominent athlete to take such a stand, Rose’s bold move was especially noteworthy. He’s long raised awareness for and preached the need to address inner-city violence and poverty, but this was different. We all acknowledge violence and poverty are problems that exist. The same can’t be said for racially charged police brutality, which makes the problem worse.
Rose making his feelings known deviated from the course he’s long taken, for he’s perceived by many to be all about his brand, right or wrong.
In spring 2013, he was roundly criticized for not returning for a playoff run after being cleared by doctors. More recently, chaos ensued when Rose said he thinks about his long-term health when deciding whether he’s healthy enough to play nowadays. And many have long wondered whether it’s Rose or those around him making his decisions.
That’s all fueled a feeling a detachment between Rose and his fans.
Taking a stand on a raging social issue is commendable and a move many, many high-profile athletes before Rose have chosen not to do. That includes Michael Jordan, who hid from those questions as he built an empire on the Jordan Brand and myriad other sponsors that were mightily invested in his image.
There was no reasoning given for Rose not talking to the media Saturday. He was gone when reporters entered the locker room. His postgame availability is often hit or miss, and we’ve no idea whether he left without talking out of routine or consciously looked to avoid questions. For all we know, he could’ve had a personal matter to tend to.
To have worn the shirt, though, Rose had to have known there’d be questions that followed. We’re not owed anything, but we’re undoubtedly curious. This was the real Derrick Rose, and we want to know the real Derrick Rose.
What about this case moved Rose to take a stand?
Why now, when there have been past opportunities to share a stance?
How did the idea to wear the T-shirt come about and who had input?
How does Rose feel he can make a difference?
Is this a sign of a more independent Rose, a man who speaks for himself after years of voices whispering in his ear?
For now, all we know is that Rose told Bulls big man and team leader Joakim Noah prior to the game he was wearing the T-shirt and that Rose has the support of two important figures in the locker room – Noah and Taj Gibson.
“He has every right to express his beliefs … I respect Derrick a lot,” Noah said. “He’s definitely making a statement by wearing it. That’s my guy.”
Added Gibson: “I thought it was great. I thought it was him speaking him mind. It’s a good thing for a positive movement.”
That Rose took a stand was admirable. One NBA star bringing awareness to a social issue can do work of hundreds of Average Joes, and Rose still carries clout as the hometown hero who made it out of the rough streets of Englewood. With his platform comes a responsibility, and this was Rose using it to the fullest extent.
It was also fitting that Rose made his stand by show rather than words, with which he too often bumbles. At some point soon, though, we’ll want to hear from him.
What does this mean for the issue at hand? And what’s it mean for Rose personally?
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.