Silver Bullet?

NBA commissioner Adam Silver and NBA players association executive Michelle Roberts wrote a joint letter encouraging NBA players to engage themselves in social activism. This is a different tactic from the NFL, whose owners and team executives initially shied away from encouraging activism around racial injustice. Now, the NFL brass, while continuing to frown upon the protest method of Colin Kaepernick and those like him, promote a “protest” rooted in respectability and community service. Respectability is indeed the name of the game. This is why for folks like Roger Goodell and Jeffrey Lurie are quick to validate Malcolm Jenkins over Colin Kaepernick… it is the old Martin v. Malcolm choice. Historically, Black people have always been conservative; conservative meaning the holding of self-empowering ethos. Some Whites have confused this as simply Blacks choosing to be responsible for their behavior; discarding themselves of the pathologies not of their creation, yet believed to be true by many. Self-empowerment for the Black community is about taking responsibility for one’s self. It also is a rejection of Whiteness in determining what is good for Black people. Regardless, it is a level of action, a level of “protest,” Whites in business are comfortable with.

Respectability is the name of the NBA’s game also. Social activism is code for community involvement. It is code to suggest that protesting police brutality experienced by Black people by choosing not to stand for the national anthem is not social activism. To be clear, the joint letter did not encouraging (or discourage) players to stand for the national anthem. However, the letter called for players to be an engaging presence in their communities. According to the letter, social activism meant voicing your opinion’s, donating to worthwhile causes and anything else that wasn’t a protest during league games. Many pundits and reporters gave the NBA credit for this, however they failed to see what was coming around the corner. This letter, from both the league office and players association, was written to prevent kneeling during game. If anyone wasn’t sure of that, the NBA made it perfectly clear in their memo to the players that both they and coaches must stand for the playing of the national anthem. The NBA telegraphed potential protests amongst their players as best they could… they had the NFL to thank.

Where the NFL failed was Colin Kaepernick remained unsigned while its owners and some league executive verbalized their displeasure with national anthem protest. The NFL’s actions have ensured that this issue is not going away. What the NBA did embracing the desire of their Black players to engage in these conversations of racism and White supremacy is a good thing. It was also strategic. Adam Silver made a hypothesis – that the NFL players chose to kneel because the NFL didn’t embrace their desires for activism; in essence the players had no other choice. Silver is hoping that if his league can embrace the need for addressing racial injustice, players will choose not to openly protest during games. Adam Silver has said previously that he did not agree with the protest and that he would like to see for NBA players to engage in more meaningful activism – but who is he to determine what is and is not meaningful activism? Colin Kaepernick has made himself a sacrificial lamb so that attention could be drawn to racial injustice; so that hearts and minds would be activated to bring about change and more attention to this issue. However, Silver is not alone. Detroit Lions owner Martha Ford, in an attempt to bargain with her players, promised to finance the causes of her players if they chose not to kneel.

I do believe that there should be a moment to flesh out the alternatives to protest, if what is being offered is in accordance with your demands. However, folks who desire to prevent these protest have intentionally confused people about the purpose of these protest and what a protest is actually designed to do. A protest is done to draw attention to a problem or concern by interrupting the regularly schedule program of society. A protest that allows folks to watch and then carry on with their day is not a protest; it is passing along information. Colin Kaepernick’s kneel during the national anthem is in protest of a nation who says one thing about freedom and equality yet allows for the unlawful killing of Black and Brown people. What makes the national anthem so apropos as a point of protest is that it was written by a slave owner who wrote a line in the third stanza about killing slaves. How can one reasonable object to anyone choosing not to stand for a song that speaks to the killing of one’s ancestors who were made to be slaves – in a nation where you can be killed by law enforcement due to your skin color? As great as community service is, that doesn’t dismantle systems and institutions of White supremacy. Equally insulting is the ignorance of people like Adam Silver who fail to admit that its employees, like LeBron James, already engages in community activism. What Adam Silver failed to mention was that NBA teams (in addition to the NFL, MLB and NHL teams) were recipients of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) “paid patriotism” dollars. The Indiana Pacers, Atlanta Hawks, Minnesota Timberwolves, Charlotte Hornets (owned by Michael Jordan), Dallas Mavericks, Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics all received a combined $663,666 between the 2012 and 2014 fiscal years. NASCAR owners, who told their drivers that they must stand for the anthem or face the consequences, received $1.5 million from the DoD, but I digress.

Adam Silver seems to be a smart guy when it comes to the business of professional basketball. I hope for his sake that he learns the lesson that the NFL hasn’t… embrace the protest during the national anthem. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like he has learned. Only 3% of people didn’t watch the NFL last year because of player protest… Racist White people will continue to watch football and they will continue to watch basketball. Non-racist White people will continue to watch as well. What Silver should not do is assume his alternative angle is satisfactory… The NBA is a players league. Maybe Silver should take time out to consider where the players stand rather than telling them that they should stand… considering that in their communities, they are already standing.

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