Gasol: It's pretty simple - it's being more responsible as human beings"

Marc Gasol spent part of the summer of 2018 on a rescue ship in the Mediterranean Sea, helping pluck terrified people from the water, migrants fleeing Libya for the shores of Europe.

Gasol was vocal about his anger and frustration at the time at an Italian government that was trying to halt the influx of refugees.

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The Toronto Raptors centre has seen the stain of racism in Europe, including his home country of Spain.

And so while the U.S. has erupted in anti-racism Black Lives Matter protests, and social and racial justice will be a theme of the NBA's restart at Walt Disney World, Gasol knows racism extends far beyond America's borders.

"We can see how we treat a lot of immigrants that come from Africa to Europe, the way we deal with it — not 'we,' but a lot of people do, sadly in Spain or Italy or other countries around Europe.

"We look at them as immigrants, not only as human beings. So that tag that you put on (them) already tells you a lot of stuff about the way you view them. All those things needs to needs to change, and if it doesn't come from the top and from the government, it has to come from the people."

The Raptors pulled up impressively to Disney World near Orlando, Fla., in two busses with "Black Lives Matter" spelled out in big block letters. Players there are wearing Black Lives Matter shirts. They'll be permitted to put a message of social or racial justice on the back of their jerseys rather than their names for the games.

Patrick McCaw said he chose "Say Their Names" for his jersey from the options presented by the league. It's in reference to the Black people killed in the U.S. like Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot by police during a no-knock search warrant, and Ahmaud Arbery, who was chased down by a white father and son while jogging, then shot and killed.

"So many names from last year to now and now's just at the most pivotal time in history," McCaw said. "It's huge just to understand the people that have been affected and still are being affected by social injustice and systematic racism. . . just everybody of my skin colour, it's something that needs to change."

Both the NBA and WNBA have encouraged their players to use their voices to speak out against racial injustice. McCaw believes the huge platform from the NBA restart will help create awareness.

"There's a lot of young kids that look up to basketball players," he said. "For me, it's always showing that anything is possible. Me being here, it's by the grace of God, the work that I put in, just dedicating my time to basketball.

"But there's so much that you have to deal with outside of basketball — school, and just living life as African-American males, it's hard. . . Just continue to stay on the path and stay level-headed no matter what, because there's a lot going on outside of basketball that people don't see, and it's tough."

The killing of George Floyd, who died in May after a Minneapolis police officer held his knee to Floyd's neck, appears to have been the tipping point. The death, recorded on video, sent thousands of protesters to the streets in virtually every major American city.

His death wasn't just felt in the U.S. though. There were protests in numerous major cities around the world.

"It spiked here in the U.S., with all the very unfortunate events that happened, (however) it's a worldwide issue, and we look at each society, each community, you can see the systemic racism that is there and I think it's our responsibility, our duty to hit it head on," Gasol said.

"There shouldn't be anybody that shies away from that. I've lived on different levels in Europe; I've seen it with my own eyes. And it's time to say enough is enough and we've got to demand a change . . . And so we can educate next generations on how to treat other human lives. To me it's pretty simple — it's being more responsible as human beings."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 15, 2020.

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