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Standing for the gospel in the NBA

Orlando forward Jonathan Isaac decides not to kneel during the national anthem


The Orlando Magic’s Jonathan Isaac (center) stands before a game against the Brooklyn Nets on Friday. Associated Press/Photo by Charles King/Orlando Sentinel

Standing for the gospel in the NBA

After grabbing headlines for becoming the first NBA player not to kneel during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” last week, Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac left the court two days later with a season-ending knee injury. He used both incidents to proclaim his faith in Jesus Christ.

Isaac chose to stand during the national anthem before Friday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla., the home to all NBA action this summer. After the game, Isaac, who is African American and an ordained minister, explained why he chose not to wear a Black Lives Matter shirt like other players or kneel during the pre-game ceremony: “I don’t think that kneeling or putting on a T-shirt, for me personally, is the answer. … Black lives are supported through the gospel. All lives are supported through the gospel.” He later added, “I think that the gospel of Jesus Christ is that there’s grace for us. And that Jesus came and died for our sins. And if we can all come to an understanding of that—that God wants that relationship with us—I think we can get past skin color.”

After tearing his ACL during Sunday’s game against the Sacramento Kings, Isaac tweeted the next day, “It is well! … Remember our God is not just a God of the hills but a God of the valleys!”

The NBA has given players more latitude to express their opinions of late but only within certain boundaries. The league allows players to display slogans on their jerseys from an approved list that doesn’t include messages inconvenient for the NBA, like support for freedom and democracy in Hong Kong.

The question of whether political—or nonpolitical—statements belong on the courts and playing fields has intensified heading into the resumption of professional sports after the outbreak of the coronavirus. At the end of July, San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Sam Coonrod, also a Christian, chose to stand alone during a pregame ceremony because he believed he couldn’t “kneel before anything but God, Jesus Christ.”

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Sharon Dierberger

Sharon is a senior writer for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and Northwestern University graduate and holds two master’s degrees. She has served as university teacher, businesswoman, clinical exercise physiologist, homeschooling mom, and Division 1 athlete. Sharon resides in Stillwater, Minn., with her husband, Bill.

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