Kobe Bryant and Lakers Teammates Sport ‘I Can’t Breathe’ T-Shirts in Solidarity

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Kobe Bryant and several other NBA Los Angeles Lakers players became the latest professional athletes to don t-shirts depicting the words “I Can’t Breathe” to show their support of protests over the controversial death of Eric Garner at the hands of police.

“I can’t breathe” — spoken 11 times — were Garner’s last words, as captured in a bystander’s video, after he was placed in a chokehold maneuver by Staten Island police during an arrest for selling loose cigarettes. The chokehold, on top of preexisting medical conditions such as asthma and obesity, contributed to Garner’s death.

The Lakers’ shirts were worn during warm-ups prior to their game against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday, December 9 in Los Angeles.

As a public figure, Bryant felt it was important to wear the t-shirts in order to voice his opinion on the matter.

“I think if we ever lose the courage to be able to speak up for things that we believe in, I think we really lose the value that our country stands for,” Bryant said in a post-game interview. “It’s important that we have our opinions. It’s important that we stand up for what we believe in. We all don’t have to agree with it, and that’s completely fine. That’s what makes this a beautiful country.”

The custom t-shirts emblazoned with Garner’s final words are indicative of a larger issue, some say. The t-shirts have become symbolic of the protest movement that ensued after the grand jury declined to indict the officer who put Garner in the chokehold.

The t-shirts can be purchased online on website such as eBay, Etsy, and Redbubble, and are also sold by smaller brick-and-mortar clothing companies across the country.

Ryan Guillot’s business, Vintage Fly Clothing, located in Louisiana, sold 100 to 120 of the t-shirts in just two days. The idea, advertised on Etsy, came to him while on a family Thanksgiving visit to Staten Island.

Guillot felt people needed a means of expressing themselves and raising awareness for causes that are important to them. His company has been in business for over 55 years, but this is the first time they have sold t-shirts with such a political message. Guillot is considering donating a portion of the proceeds to charity.

“Clothes are an expression of individual style,” says Elise Harding, Owner, Tee Compressed. “T-Shirts with branding and verbiage can be a walking billboard of your beliefs; not everyone will agree with it, and that’s okay. If you want to spread a message make sure it’s one that you truly stand behind.”

Dr. Frances Melendez, a clinical psychologist and director of clinical mental health for the College of Staten Island, feels that the t-shirts help to foster an open discussion over a sensitive topic. According to Melendez, seeing public figures such as Bryant and Lebron James wearing the t-shirt gives people a sense of validity.

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