On Monday, Pope Francis gathered several NBA players at a conference organized by the Vatican to talk about their social justice advocacy at the height of intense division in the United States.

NBA players meet the Vatican Pope

A Vatican representative had reached out, according to the National Basketball Players Association, to schedule a conference. The members of the Three Player Union meet with the Pope, as did Sterling Brown, Kyle Korver, Anthony Tolliver, Marco Belinelli, and Jonathan Isaac. On Sunday night, the members traveled from the United States and talked with the Pope moments after landing safely in Rome.

Bishops, educators, and humanitarian organizations have been greeted frequently by Pope Francis; however, it would be much less normal for him to take a seat with athletes. 

Interestingly, after Pompeo outraged Vatican authorities by opposing the church's relations with China, the Pope chose in September not to deal with various American communities traveling to Rome, including a delegation headed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The meeting provides an insight at what elements of United States culture the Pope feels are most relevant, with five of the NBA players who have been outspoken on concerns such as white privilege and even police brutality. 

Moreover, the conference also reveals the extent of sports advocacy in the United States. The NBA players, many of whom are Black, have now become one of the most influential advocates of social change.

As is traditional, the Vatican would not disclose information about the specifics of the meeting with the athletes, apart from mentioning that the team discussed with Pope Francis.

Addressing concerns on social and economic injustices

The player's union had stated in a comment that the NBA athletes who met with Pope Francis had an opportunity to "discuss their individual and collective efforts addressing social and economic injustice and inequality occurring in their communities."

"We are extremely honored to have had this opportunity to come to the Vatican and share our experiences with Pope Francis," Korver had stated in a comment. "His openness and eagerness to discuss these issues was inspiring and a reminder that our work has had a global impact and must continue moving forward," he added.

Michele Roberts, the executive director of the players' union, also stated that the conference "validates" the strength of the voices of the NBA players.

Roberts also had this to say: "That one of the most influential leaders in the world sought to have a conversation with them demonstrates the influence of their platforms."

In the United States, Pope Francis has already spoken frequently concerning divisions and police brutality. Pope Francis stated that he felt "great concern" regarding the "disturbing social unrest in America" in early June, just after the brutal murder of George Floyd. He even deemed the killing of Floyd "tragic."

"We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life," Pope Francis stated.

"You're champions," Pope Francis said to the NBA players. "But also giving the example of teamwork, you've become a model, giving that good example of teamwork but always remaining humble ... and preserving your own humanity," he added.