According to this report, the NBA will allow its players to replace the last name on the back of their jerseys with a statement on “social justice.” To me, this is more offensive than permitting a one-time gesture — kneeling, a clinched fist, whatever — at the beginning of an athletic contest.
Watching some ill-educated 20-something who attended a basketball factory university for a year or two run up and down the court for hours with a political slogan on his back isn’t my cup of tea. For that matter, watching some 20-something graduate from from an Ivy League college do so wouldn’t be either.
Jonah Goldberg objects more generally to political messaging at sporting events. He writes:
I’m a conservative in large part because I want politics to play a smaller role in people’s lives. Many of the problems in America today are attributable to the fact that politics has become a kind of secular faith, a lifestyle choice, that infects social relations and undermines institutions. This is a now well-established finding in social science. It manifests itself in dating, marriage, faith, and at the workplace.
Institutions—civic groups, religious organizations, businesses, and even the NBA—have specific roles to play in society. The more we expect them to be wholly loyal to one partisan or ideological cause—however just we think that cause—the more we undermine the roles they play. I want to live in a society where we have as many safe harbors from politics as possible.
Goldberg quotes E.J. Dionne who, writing about the prospect of Rush Limbaugh joining the broadcast booth for Monday Night Football, said:
Most of us who love sports want to forget about politics when we watch games. Sports, like so many other voluntary activities, creates connections across political lines. All Americans who are rooting for the Red Sox in the playoffs are my friends this month, no matter what their ideology.
Politicizing everything from literature to music to painting and sports was once a habit of the left. The Communist Party’s now-defunct newspaper once had a sports column called “Out in Left Field.”
Now, it’s the turn of the right to politicize everything.
I doubt that Dionne really believed this. He just didn’t want Limbaugh to get the Monday Night Football gig, regardless of whether Limbaugh would have brought politics into the broadcasts. (I’ll gladly confess error on this point if I see a Dionne column that objects to political slogans on the jerseys of NBA players.)
I agree with the general sentiment Dionne expressed, but I’m also okay with allowing athletes to express themselves with a gesture before the game begins. However, allowing them to become political billboards during the game goes too far.
Finally, let’s not overlook the hypocrisy of the NBA and its social justice warrior athletes. As Goldberg reminds us:
[I]t wasn’t long ago that many in the NBA beclowned themselves by becoming craven lickspittles to China in order to keep the money spigot open. Last October Houston Rockets general mnager Daryl Morey rightly tweeted support for protesters in Hong Kong. The Chinese Communist Party took offense, and the NBA quickly proceeded to prostrate itself to China. The league shamefully kicked out fans carrying pro-Hong Kong signs from an NBA exhibition game in Philadelphia. Lebron James got snared in the controversy for giving a weasel-worded defense of China that would get him canceled if he said something similar about the Minneapolis Police Department.
Well, just to set the record. Racism in China is a far bigger problem—and far more systemic in a real, not metaphorical way—than in the United States. The Chinese literally have a Jim Crow style system that discriminates in employment, travel, and education against non-Han Chinese. They currently have roughly a million Uighurs in re-education camps. Oh, and I’m just guessing here, but police abuses are probably a bigger problem in China than they are in the U.S.
I’m pretty sure that the majority of NBA players don’t know these realities about China. The remainder probably don’t care. Either way, fans should not be subjected to messaging about social justice from this lot.
I’ve been an NBA fan since the late 1950s. There was a time when it was my favorite sports league and the Baltimore/Capital/Washington Bullets were my favorite sports team.
I became less of an NBA fan when “analytics” drove teams to build their offenses around three-point shots and dunks. The sharp decline in mid-range shots and the demise of offenses predicated on them decreased my interest in the sport.
The China scandal drove me further away. I probably haven’t watched more than a dozen games this season, and probably no game from start to finish.
If the NBA serves up 48 minutes of social justice messaging from its athletes, I doubt I’ll watch any games when the season re-starts. If we have soccer, baseball, and the opening of NFL training camps, that should be enough to service my sports fix.