Etan Thomas, a former NBA player who is also a poet, author and activist, was involved in what he said was an ugly racial incident while he was looking for a seat on a crowded train recently.

A white woman on the train took issue with having Thomas, a 6-foot-10 center who spent most of his career with the Washington Wizards and played college ball at Syracuse, sit next to her, though Thomas said she had no problem with a white man who made the same request moments later. Thomas told the story on Facebook:

“I ask this lady if I could sit next to her (very politely and I soften my voice as to not frighten her) and she says someone is sitting here,” he wrote. “So I go to the next seat. Now, less than 2 mins later a man (who happens to be white) asks if he can sit there and she says why sure let me move my stuff.”

Thomas, 38, decided to confront the woman.

“I ask ummmmm did you just not want ME to sit next to you? Were you scared? Not comfortable with a Black Man sitting next to you? And she says lol smh don’t pull the race card stuff with me I dated a Black guy in college.”

At that point, the man sitting next to the woman offered to get up, but Thomas had other ideas. He was taking a photo of her alongside the extremely uncomfortable-looking white man.

“I said no need I’mma just take this pic and make a Facebook post about it. So then she says did you just take a pic of me? Well I’m going to tell the conductor that you’re over here illegally taking pics of ppl without their consent. So the conductor came up and said hey Etan Thomas love what you’re doing in the community loved you with the Wizards big ‘Cuse fan man the Knicks sure could use you …. And I said was there something you wanted to tell my man? And she rolled her eyes smh some ppl I tell ya.”

Thomas, who retired from the NBA after the 2011 season, is not shy about sharing his opinion. He has been outspoken about the war in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina, among other issues.   The father of three children, he has spoken publicly about being a responsible father and wrote a book, “Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge,” that contains essays from high-profile dads who happen to be athletes and actors, politicians and poets, among other things. Since the book came out in 2012, he has started what he says is a “fatherhood movement,” participating in panel discussions and town-hall meetings at schools, churches and Rikers Island, New York City’s main jail complex. Along the way, he has been joined by Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers, rapper-actor Ice Cube, skateboarder Tony Hawk and filmmaker Michael Moore.

Thomas, who is married to former Syracuse basketball player Nichole Oliver, told in 2014 that he wondered about the effect of his absences as an NBA player on his children.

“I wanted to make sure people knew that I didn’t have all the answers,” Thomas said. “I’m trying to get there and I’m on this journey along with everybody else.”

In a 2005 essay in The Washington Post, Thomas wrote that “basketball is not all that I am” and talked about his book of poems, “More than an Athlete: Poems by Etan Thomas.”

A lot of times preconceptions can get in the way of anyone truly seeing what’s inside of a person. People are always blown away by the idea that I write poetry, and I ask them why? Because I’m a 6-10, 260-pound black man, I can’t have an interest beyond the field of athletics? Or, after someone hears me recite one of my poems or hears a speech, I am graced with the words, “You speak so well,” as if I’m supposed to take that as a compliment. Now, if they tell me they enjoyed my poem or they agree with my point of view, that’s a compliment.
This is something I’ve been dealing with all my life, but I don’t let it hinder me.
I’m often slapped in the face with harsh realities about perception. Like when I’m driving in a nice car in a white neighborhood in Virginia, and I get pulled over pretty much for being black. Or, when I walk past a white woman and she thinks I want to snatch her purse, and becomes all nervous to the point where I get uncomfortable myself. Or when I have to ask a white person to hail a cab for me and then quickly jump in the back — a little trick I had to learn because I can’t get cabs to stop for me.
So what do people see when they look at me? A tall black man with dreads, usually wearing some type of baggy clothing, boots, maybe beads of some kind (I’m not really into diamonds or platinum) and maybe a Rasta hat? If that’s all they see, then they don’t really see me. If that’s as far as they want to go into who I am as a person, then that’s their loss.