Orlando Magic power forward Jonathan Isaac was thrust into the national spotlight at the end of July when he did not kneel for the national anthem or wear a Black Lives Matter T-shirt over his jersey during an NBA seeding game against the Brooklyn Nets.
This was one of the first games to be played in the NBA bubble that has been quarantining players in Disney World. Isaac is African American and 6-foot-11, so he definitely stood out in making his stance, and as a young black man, I’m sure he knew a flurry of questions and sharp criticism were coming his way.
When Isaac was asked by a reporter if he believed black lives matter after the Nets game, he gave a response rooted in his Christian faith.
“I don’t think that kneeling or putting on a T-shirt for me, personally, is the answer,” Isaac stated. “I feel like for me black lives are supported through the Gospel. All lives are supported through the Gospel.” He continued by saying, “I feel like the Bible tells us we all fall short of God’s glory” and emphasized that those who humble themselves, seek God and repent of their sins would “see people’s mistakes in a different light.”
This was not the reply the reporter was expecting, but I applaud Isaac for his courage. He’s only 22 and is a newly ordained minister. Being a Christian in his generation, known as Generation Z or iGen, is not the most popular thing. According to Pew Research, roughly one-third of Gen Z is not religious, and many of them identify as atheist or agnostic.
Isaac is truly a shining light among his peers. He was a first-round pick for the Magic in 2017, and as a professional athlete, he has been blessed with an enormous platform.
As I viewed the remainder of Isaac’s post-game interview on YouTube, it was clear to me that he is wise beyond his years in his walk of faith. The reporter asked him a follow-up question about the correlation between religion and kneeling to protest police brutality and racism. Isaac answered this question by addressing the largest misconception regarding Christianity.
“Honestly, I don’t really see it as a religion for myself. I see it as a relationship with God.”
Having a relationship with God was the basis for how Isaac explained his perspective on race and racism when he mentioned that in our society we often point fingers at those whose evil we think is the worse and most visible. He stressed that we must get past skin color and that only God’s grace through Christ will enable us to do that.
I’ve made similar points in several of my columns on the racial unrest in our country this year, but I believe when a young person like Isaac has the same outlook on these issues, it takes on a special meaning. Kids and young adults are watching what he does and listening to what he says through social media.
Having acquired wealth at an early age, Isaac has the resources to pursue anything he wants in life. His choosing to live for Christ and be a minister is a big deal in this denouncing era of cancel culture.
After the Nets game, Isaac tore his ACL in the Magic’s second seeding matchup against the Sacramento Kings, which brought his season to an abrupt end. However, he is not letting his injury crush his competitive drive. “IT IS WELL!!!” he recently tweeted. “MY COMEBACK WILL BE GREATER THAN MY SETBACK!!!! I STILL STAND IN JESUS’ NAME!!!!” Many fans are also standing with Isaac and showing him great support.
Last week, his jersey sales soared to the second spot in the NBA behind the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James. Many will view folks purchasing Isaac’s jersey as a political statement. For some, that may be the case, but I think a lot of people want to show they embrace his message of love and hope.
I think of him as a modern-day Timothy, the young minister who was mentored by the Apostle Paul. Paul instructed Timothy to be a role model in word, conversation, charity, spirit, faith and purity. This is the example that Isaac is setting.
Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at The Ohio State University-Lima. Email her at email@example.com. @JjSmojc