NBA's James Harden Slammed for Wearing Apparent Pro-Police Mask amid Fight Against Racial Injustice
James Harden is facing heat for being pictured wearing a face covering with controversial imagery.
On Thursday, the 30-year-old point guard was shown on the NBA and Houston Rockets team Twitter accounts wearing a black-white-and-blue mask with a skull on it. The design appears to resemble "thin blue line" imagery, a pro-police symbol that some also link to white supremacy and an opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement.
While some social media users suggested Harden might not have been aware of the mask's meaning, others strongly criticized the athlete for donning it amid ongoing protests against police brutality and racial injustice.
"This certified clown s---. I’ll say it for everybody who scared to. FOH," tweeted singer Trey Songz, while rapper Young Thug defended Harden, writing: "Just so u know James harden is my brada... btw he don’t have internet so he obviously don’t know what’s right or wrong if he posted something that’s against US."
"Just the way the city rallied, it was amazing — I think the world saw it," he said. "How so many people could come together so close ... Obviously it was for, you know, a tragic reason, but the marching and everything that we’re standing for is very powerful."
When asked about the chosen mask, Harden told reporters on Friday that he "wasn't trying to make a political statement."
"I wore it because it covered my whole face and my beard," he said. "It's pretty simple, as I talked about yesterday, me finding a way — whether it's my jersey name or another way — for me to show my support for Black Lives Matter. It's pretty simple. ... That was it."
Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories
A rep for the Rockets did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.
Last month, during nationwide outcries against police brutality, the Rockets issued a statement about Floyd, a 46-year-old former resident of Houston who was killed while in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25.
"We mourn for and are angered by the senseless death of George Floyd, a man raised in Houston's Third Ward. Inexcusably, our Black community continues to be subject to racism, bigotry, prejudice and fear," said the team. "This must end. All people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect."
RELATED VIDEO: Shaquille O'Neal Stops to Stay with a Stranded Driver in Florida Until Help Arrives
The team added: "We condemn violence in all its forms. As an organization, we are committed to working with our players, coaches, employees and community leaders to affect meaningful and lasting change."
Gearing up to resume the basketball season at the Walt Disney World Resort later this month, the NBA reportedly considered painting "Black Lives Matter" on the sidelines of the courts.
To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:
- Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
- ColorofChange.org works to make the government more responsive to racial disparities.
- National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help Black youth succeed in college and beyond.