Patrick Ewing channels John Thompson in Black Lives Matter statement: 'Racism is not new'

Jason Owens
·3-min read

Patrick Ewing is no stranger to racism.

On Tuesday, the basketball Hall of Famer and Georgetown head coach released a video announcing the program’s stance in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and against police brutality. In the video, Ewing urged his followers to take a stand and vote people out of office who don’t align with the movement.

The almost three-minute video paid tribute to former head coach John Thompson, a pioneer on and off the court who built one of college basketball’s most successful programs and used the platform to promote racial justice.

“When our players were subjected to hatred designed as fandom, we refused to play until the racist and cruel signs and displays were removed from the building,” a narrator reads while the video shows Villanova fans holding up signs during a game against Georgetown.

Racist taunts at the Palestra

In 1983, Thompson pulled the Hoyas off the court after multiple racist signs targeting Ewing were displayed by Villanova fans.

Fans held up signs reading “Ewing is an Ape” and “Ewing can’t read” while another fan wore a T-shirt reading “Ewing Kant Read Dis.” One fan threw a banana peel on the court when Ewing was introduced pregame.

At the time, Ewing was a star sophomore center for the Hoyas en route to the first of three consecutive All-American honors at Georgetown. It was far from his first brush with racism.

Ewing became a high school star after moving with his family from Jamaica to Massachusetts at 12 years old. A 7-footer with an intimidating presence on the court, Ewing was regularly subjected to racist taunts as a high school player.

Patrick Ewing talks with reporters in 1985 with John Thompson in the background.
Patrick Ewing alluded to John Thompson's legacy of using his Georgetown platform to call for racial justice. (AP Photo/Ira Schwarz)

Thompson’s fight against NCAA legislation

Thompson’s refusal to play that day until the signs were removed wasn’t the only time he used his presence on a basketball court to take a stand.

“When proposition 42 was quietly passed in 1989, we stood behind our coach who walked off the court in protest of a rule that he found to be both unfounded and unfairly attacking Black youth and their opportunity at an education,” the narrator continued.

After player introductions for a 1989 game against Boston College, Thompson walked off the court and left the building before the tip. He did not return for the Hoyas’ 86-80 win that day, leaving his post as head coach in protest of Proposition 42, a recently passed NCAA rule that denied athletic scholarships to freshmen who failed to qualify for athletic eligibility.

According to the Washington Post, 90 percent of the 600 student athletes impacted by the rule that year were Black. The NCAA rescinded Proposition 42 in 1990.

Ewing’s call for change today

Ewing took over audio in the second half of the video and vowed to carry on Thompson’s stance of making Georgetown basketball a platform for racial justice.

“Racism is not new, and neither is Georgetown’s position against it,” Ewing said. “We choose to fight with our voice and our vote.

“It’s no longer OK for anyone to stand on the sidelines. It’s time to get out there and make it known that racism and police brutality against Black men and women are no longer tolerated.”

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