Malcolm Brogdon is named after Malcolm X. His late grandfather, John Hurst Adams, a civil rights leader, marched with Martin Luther King Jr.
Activism is in Brogdon's DNA.
“It's just been a part of my upbringing. It's been a part of my history,” the Pacers' 27-year-old guard said Friday. “Learning that, for me, was as important as learning math and science.
“I was born into a family that was part of the movement from an early stage. Foundationally, in my mind, that comes before education, before basketball, before all these other things in your life – knowing who you are and your identity and who you represent and what you stand for.”
Brogdon has been in communication with Pacers management throughout his efforts to shed light on racial injustice – which have included penning editorials, giving interviews and educating those within the team – and Kevin Pritchard, the team's president of basketball operations, thought it was moving and appropriate to see Brogdon peacefully protesting in Atlanta last week.
“He sends me this phenomenal text every day and he says, 'I can't thank you enough for giving me this platform.' The truth is, we didn't give him anything. He was going to get to it without us,” Pritchard said in an emotional video call Friday, when he acknowledged he was “ignorant” to what so many of his minority friends, co-workers and players endure.
Pritchard, who acknowledged “my white privilege makes me feel guilty,” wants people inside and outside the Pacers' facilities to know that minority players need to be heard and that Brogdon's voice is an important one.
“I just know that I feel like I'm in a unique position to watch a young person coming up in age with the exact message that this world needs,” said Pritchard, adding he envisions Brogdon as a politician someday. “He is my president. I've learned more from him on this than I ever thought I would and ever thought I could.”
Brogdon, an Atlanta native in his first season with the Pacers, reminds people systematic racism long predated the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. Among the topics Brogdon has been discussing lately have been voter turnout, accountability from elected officials and the lessons of Nelson Mandela.
“What's so amazing about the time period we're living in right now is this moment is allowing everybody to actually take notice of what's going on around them,” said Brogdon, who has a master's degree in public policy from the University of Virginia.
“A lot of my white teammates, they say, 'You now, I didn't actually understand what was going on with black people. I didn't understand that idea of privilege. I didn't understand these things.' So I think it's actually bringing people together.”
Brogdon has long done charitable work, including bringing water to Africa through Hoops2O, and is launching a foundation that will work with underserved schools in Indianapolis. He wants to help with mentoring and literacy for minority students.
He's hard-wired to help in these turbulent times.
“Oh, I don't think God makes mistakes. I think God gives you experiences. He gives you family and he gives you a support system. He sort of tailors your life for specific opportunities,” Brogdon said. “Right now is an opportunity for me to shed light on people that don't have a voice. It's an opportunity for me to shed light on issues that have been ignored for so long, and bring solutions to them.”
Brogdon believes professional athletes – regardless of race – have a responsibility to further the conversation on race because they are public figures with the platforms to do so.
“I think speaking up, there's a way that you can demonstrate you're part of the solution,” Brogdon said. “I think you can speak out by writing articles or being in protests. There's a whole host of ways you can figure out how to be a part of the solution and not part of the problem. The biggest problem is being silent. I think when you're silent – not just silent talking about it but also in terms of not taking any action or being part of the solution – that's when you become the problem and you're hurting rather than helping.”
What Brogdon and other minorities in the Pacers organization are saying has affected whites such as Pritchard, who relayed a story of center Myles Turner getting pulled over by police outside of Indiana.
“He's with a couple other African Americans. And as the cop approached, he was shaking in his car,” Pritchard said. “He was shaking in his car! Yeah, I get nervous when the police pull me over, but I'm not shaking. I know that I'm going home that day. They don't know if they're going home or if something bad is going to happen. That's what we all have to change.”