Pope Francis has hosted a delegation of NBA players and union officials at the Vatican, to discuss the issues of social justice and racial equality, without anyone wearing a mask to protect against the spread of Covid-19.

The delegation of five players and five union executives met with Pope Francis in the papal library of the Apostolic Palace on Monday, presenting gifts and discussing their experiences in fighting racism and social injustice. Photos and videos of the meeting showed at least 16 people sitting together in the library and exchanging gifts with no masks and little social-distancing measures.

No masks. These NBA players were on an overnight flight from the US just yesterday and met with the pope hours after landing. Beyond bizarre, that Francis prefers these meetings mask-free.

The National Basketball Players Association (NLBPA) said that in accordance with Vatican protocols, members of the delegation underwent Covid-19 testing before the meeting. Pope Francis, who is 83 years old, has been chided for rarely wearing a face covering, even when meeting with people indoors. The US has reported nearly 12 million Covid-19 cases and more than 250,000 deaths from the virus, by far the most in the world.

Note: In accordance with Vatican protocols, players and NBPA staff members were required to undergo COVID-19 testing before meeting with Pope Francis at the papal library of the Apostolic Palace.

The player delegation included Sterling Brown and Kyle Korver, both of the Milwaukee Bucks, Anthony Tolliver of the Memphis Grizzlies, Jonathan Isaac of the Orlando Magic and Marco Belinelli of the San Antonio Spurs. Belinelli, who is from Italy, spoke to the Pope in Italian.

Five NBA players and several officials from the NBPA met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Monday to discuss their work on social justice issues.(via Vatican TV)

“Today’s meeting validates the power of our players’ voices,” NLBPA executive director Michele Roberts said. “That one of the most influential leaders in the world sought to have a conversation with them demonstrates the influence of their platforms.”

The NBA became more politicized this year in the aftermath of massive Black Lives Matter protests across the US following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody in May. Players boycotted games after another black man, Jacob Blake, was shot by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August, and social-justice messages were featured on uniforms, basketball courts, and arena signs.

Korver said the players were honored to share their experiences with Pope Francis. “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,” Korver said.

Pope Francis has a ghost-written book, due out on December 1, in which he supports demands for racial justice, among other causes.

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