Americas most progressive major athletics league may be at the onset of its most important season and not for what will happen on the court
Imagine a athletics league whose athletes are encouraged to speak out against social injustice. Imagine a league that doesn’t treat activism like a threat, painting over the wails for change with flimsy public relations initiatives in hopes of placating fans and advertisers. Imagine a league that invites difficult dialogues rather than close its eyes and hope the uncomfortable moments go away.
As the NFL dithers in the face of player expression, the NBA espouses it. For the last three weeks NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has danced around the proper answer to his players’ silent scream for racial equality. As several of the league’s stars continue to kneel during the national anthem, describing almost daily fire from US president Donald Trump, he maintains reaching for a public-relations solution that will construct the media onslaught vanish. But the more the NFL tries to pretend it is listening to its players, the louder the criticism comes from all sides.
The NBA of commissioner Adam Silver is not a league mired in controversy over player voice. Though the NBA and NFL have roughly the same percentage of African American players- around 74% in the NBA and 70% in the NFL– America’s basketball league greets the exclaims of disagreement. In recent seasons the NBA has allowed players to wear shirts that brought attention to police barbarism as well as celebrating the legacy of Martin Luther King.
Now, with the NFL struggling to handle player activism, the NBA might be starting its most important season- not for what will happen on the court but what its players can do off of it.
Early last month the NBA devoted its players a blanket endorsement to protest injustice. As ESPN reported Silver and Michele Roberts, the NBA Players Association’s executive director, sent a letter to all players encouraging them to speak out.
” None of us operates in a vacuum ,” the letter said.” Critical issues that affect our society also impact you immediately. Fortunately, you are not only the world’s greatest basketball players – you have real power to make a difference in the world and we want you to know that the Players Association and the League are always available to help you figure out the most meaningful way to induce that difference .”
The letter was a great sign that the NBA not only hopes its players will be a voice against racial inequality but it expects them to be one as well. Of course, many in the NBA have already spoken out. This is attained easier because many of the top NBA players actually seem to care about what is going on in their communities and would like to speak about uncomfortable subjects.
Though some superstars in the past, like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, “was talkin about a” social problems, too many others seemed happy to protect the brands they were becoming. While there is much topic about whether Michael Jordan, as a player, said ” Republicans buy shoes too ,” when refusing to endorse a black Senate candidate running against the racist Jesse Helms in Jordan’s home state of North Carolina, specific comments surely felt like a fit for most top athletes until very recently. Jordan’s primary responsibility was to protect his endorser, Nike , not upset potential consumers.
That NBA is gone. Last year, Jordan , now the owner of the Charlotte Hornets, released a statement saying he could” no longer stay silent” about police killings of African Americans. At another time such a comment from a top NBA player, let alone an owner, would have been seen as shocking. But LeBron James, the Jordan of this epoch, has spoken out repeatedly and eloquently on racial issues.
In a recent interview with GQ, James talked about Muhammad Ali, saying:” Ali represented something bigger than Ali. He wanted to make a change for a future without him included .” But James also attacked Trump as having” no positive with him ,” and said he did speaks out about race because he is on this planet” for a higher cause .”
” I don’t do it to get praise or be in an article ,” James told the magazine.” I do it because it’s my responsibility .”
If the best player in the NBA is saying these things and the greatest player ever( now a team owner) is saying these things and if the commissioner is asking players to say these things, then players are going to feel free to speak. The basketball season that follows might be the most socially aware of any major American athletic at any time. Years later, we might look back at the 2017 -1 8 NBA campaign as the one in which professional athletes finally find their political voice.
While the NFL skips around the land mine hoping Donald Trump will take it off full blast, the NBA is almost daring the president to take fire at its starrings. So far Trump has held back, maybe for no other reason than “were not receiving” victory in aiming at a league that is strong in its sentence. Unlike the NFL, which agonizes of saying nothing that will maintain both Republican and Democrat from buying Sunday Ticket, the NBA seems to understand its players need to be themselves to appear genuine.
Sometimes living in your place and day is more important than selling ads.
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