SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – As much of an impact Donovan Mitchell had on the court in his five seasons with the Utah Jazz, one local civil rights activist says Mitchell’s off the court impact may have been even greater in the Salt Lake community.
“As bad as I want that championship, he’s going to be missed off the court,” said Akers, who was born and raised in Utah and is a life-long Jazz fan. “Community is more important to me. He was always on the forward right step with everything, and he’s definitely going to be sorely missed.”
From wearing a “Say Her Name” jersey honoring Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed by police in Louisville, Kentucky where Mitchell went to college. To reaching out to the family of Utah’s Izzy Tichenor, a black girl who committed suicide after the family contended she was being bullied, to engaging politicians on Critical Race Theory, Mitchell never shied away from issues affecting the black community.
“We are one of maybe a thousand of us here,” Akers said. “So, for him to have that voice and to have that platform, and to speak out on all the topics that we’re trying to address, that just set the stage for us.”
Mitchell may have alienated some fans because of his political and social stances, but Akers says those opinions may have taken even more courage.
“There’s something to be said when you go against the grain with anything in society,’ Akers said. Some athletes don’t because of endorsement opportunities and other things. But for some reason, Donovan Mitchell kind of stepped out on that ledge a little bit. He just let it be known that he has a very particular voice coming from a community. He pushed that threshold.”
Not to mention how Mitchell helped out kids, whether it was giving out school supplies in Kearns, or a pair basketball shoes before each game.
“It’s just a point of joy to see his influence and his power which put smiles on kids faces,” Akers said. “It really uplifted individuals. Acknowledgement and representation is key here.”
While Mitchell was a superstar with a huge platform, Akers is hopeful more Jazz players speak out on social issues.
“We’re going to see more Jazz players in the future I think in more community outreach programs,” he said. “He kind of set the stage and he was at the forefront with that. So, it’s going to be a big curiosity for a lot of us to see who is going to be that icon that is going to step up.”