Bronx Sen. Jamaal Bailey is the leading sponsor of a range of police reform measures, including a law approved this year paving the way for the disclosure of law enforcement disciplinary records. 

Bailey is also a big sports fan. I wanted to learn more about what he thought about the intersection of race, policing and sports as professional teams and athletes protest the shootings of Black people by police. 

Here's a transcript of our interview, lightly edited for clarity. 

Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Muhammad Ali, Colin Kaepernick — all these men were basically shunned from their sports because of the stands they took. Are you concerned that some of these athletes today will face blowback and maybe professional harm like we’ve seen other Black athletes in history? 

I truly hope not. But as time as shown with each of those gentlemen time has proven they were in the right, that they did the right thing, that they stood up to the do the right thing without reservation. 

And I think these NBA players and WNBA players, Major League Baseball players, MLS players  — they’re standing up. It’s not just one person you can point at. These are teams, these are players associations, these are organized people who are saying enough is enough and we’re tired of it. 

Why do athletes feel this is an important statement to make now?

I think it’s a cauldron that’s just bubbled over. I think there’s always been a level of frustration that athletes have had in professional sports. The majority of these athletes are people of color that generally come from inner cities and they have been around or have faced or know someone who has faced systemic racism or police violence in their lives. 

They’ve been having these conversations with their family members I’d imagine, their fan base I’d imagine. And you’ve got George Floyd and Jacob Blake, but also (basketball operations president) Masai Ujiri of the Toronto Raptors who was accused of assault and last week the body cam footage showed the officer clearly lied about the interaction, and yet there’s no repercussions. 

Your level of success does not insulate you from a level of police violence. 

Do these men and women feel like they have a platform not afforded to most people? And what conversations do you think are going on within the teams?

I think the bubble has been the best thing for this type of camaraderie. They realize the eyes are on them. 

The moment we knew coronavirus quote unquote was real for many of us was when the NBA cancelled games. Rudy Gobert came down and he contracted coronavirus and the Jazz versus Thunder game was canceled. And we knew it was real when, oh, wait, the NBA was cancelling games. They know they have the platform. 

Maya Moore, one of the greatest women’s basketball players of all time, she stopped, she paused a Hall of Fame career to fight for the exoneration of Jonathan Irons. I’m in awe of Maya Moore on the court, but more so off the court. They have the platform and they’re harnessing the power now. 

Where do you see conversations on local police changes in New York like Governor Cuomo has ordered? They’re due April 1. 

We have to be prepared for a series of uncomfortable conversations. We have to challenge the status quo in the way we look at policing. 

As the lead sponsor of the 50-a bill and many of the police reform bills, I’m not anti-policing to the least. I believe we need police, but I also think we need to have conversations about what it means to police and what it means to be policed. 

The conversations should be held at the community board level or whatever that level may be throughout the 62 counties in New York. Folks have to feel their voices are heard and that their voices count, or I’m afraid we’ll be right back to where we were on April 2, 2021. 

When you have this conversation in the sports world, does it trickle into the sports world? 

I think it’s critical. One of my good friends, Jason Clinkscales, he has coined the phrase “sports is the world’s greatest social currency." I truly believe that.

I can sit next to people at games when games were happening in person and I can have nothing in common politically or socioeconomically or anything else except we are fans of the New York Knicks or we are fans of the New York Mets. That is an incredible connectivity piece. 

I think it has to trickle down into our collective consciousness, because I’m not listening to Laura Ingraham when she tells LeBron to just "shut up and dribble." I’m not listening that say you can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. 

Everything is a political decision. We tell people you have to get involved, you have to get out and vote. But we tell athletes this is your one job? Which is why I’m so excited why they took this step toward striking. 

And I wanted to talk about how we look at labor: When the labor pool is young and Black and wealthy, but these are workers, right? They have rights. They have a union that collectively bargains. 

I think we need to look at this from a much bigger perspective saying workers have rights, and we can do what we can regardless of what they make and what they do.