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On Stephen Curry’s support for Colin Kaepernick and ambivalence about HB2

Just the other day, Stephen Curry spoke out in support of NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s National Anthem protest, to bring awareness to issues of racial inequality and injustice. But when the NBA moved the All-Star Game from Curry’s hometown of Charlotte in protest of North Carolina’s HB2 law that discriminates against members of the LGBTQ community, he remained silent. Why?

On Wednesday, Stephen Curry took a bold step into athlete activism by endorsing NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the National Anthem.

Curry joins 49er Eric Reid and soccer star Megan Rapinoe in supporting Kaepernick’s protest against systemic racial injustice and inequality in this country.

In an interview with CNBC, Curry expressed support for “bettering the equal rights and treatment of African Americans and people of color.” He went on to say that he hopes the focus will remain on Kaepernick’s message about what needs to change in this country rather than get reduced to a media guessing game about whether or not Kaepernick will stand, sit, or kneel at any given game. Curry applauded Kaepernick for “putting his money where his mouth is” by donating $1 million to the cause of racial justice. While Curry’s words should be applauded as well, they also should be held to scrutiny.

Prior to Wednesday, Curry had only dabbled in league-endorsed PSA-type campaigns in support of gender equality and stricter gun laws, and he worked with President Obama on initiatives to provide mosquito netting to malaria-ravaged African countries. His Twitter feed is not filled with messages about social issues, leaving one to surmise that he is the type of athlete who prefers to keep his opinions to himself. But his support of Kaepernick shows that he is not this type of athlete at all, that he is willing to use his power as a superstar athlete to influence social change. Yet, when faced with an issue affecting his own league – the NBA’s decision to move the All-Star Game out of Curry’s hometown of Charlotte, in protest over that North Carolina’s discriminatory HB2 law – Curry remained silent.

Of course, this leads us to one question: why?

In a July 21st interview with SportsCenter’s Lindsay Czarniak on the day of the league announced the decision, Golden State Warriors phenom Stephen Curry, clearly frustrated, said: “It’s disappointing that my hometown won’t be able to host the All-Star Game as they had planned. Obviously, I understand that was Adam Silver’s decision… but obviously it’s an unfortunate situation for the city… and it is what it is.”

In other words, he took the easy way out.

He spoke solely to how the move will affect the city of Charlotte and Charlotte basketball fans, but skipped over the bigger issue: North Carolina’s discriminatory HB2 law. North Carolina’s House Bill 2, or HB2, is the reason NBA Commissioner Adam Silver stripped Charlotte of the All-Star Game and awarded it to New Orleans. (Given the unprecedented flooding in Louisiana in recent months, the move seems perfectly timed, as revenue from the game will help the state to recover and rebuild while the game itself undoubtedly will lift the spirits of those who have been affected.)

Warriors’ response

While the response to Adam Silver’s decision to move the All-Star Game was lackluster across the NBA, Stephen Curry’s response was most disappointing, for two reasons:

First, as the two-time, back-to-back MVP, Curry is the face of the league. Of course, this could be the precise reason he chose to remain silent rather than risk endorsements and negative press by wading into murky and toxic political waters. But endorsement dollars and media scrutiny are not valid reasons for remaining silent while a segment of the population in his beloved North Carolina is facing the kind of state-endorsed discrimination that historically has led to violence.

Second, Charlotte is Curry’s hometown and he has stated on multiple occasions that he is a proud Charlottean. Thus, Curry’s status in the league and the fact that his hometown of Charlotte was the original city for the 2016-17 All-Star Game entrenches him into this HB2 issue, whether he likes it or not. He cannot be left off the hook for evading the opportunity to address a very important issue that affects him directly, being that he is a player in the NBA and a resident of Charlotte.

Curry needs to understand that it is not only African Americans and people of color facing injustice and discrimination, but LGBTQ citizens as well. In North Carolina, it is not legal to deny someone a job or housing for having brown skin. But it is legal for an LGBTQ person to be denied jobs and housing simply for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender — thanks to the heavy-handed, homophobic legislation that is HB2.

Now, contrast Curry’s silence and avoidance of the issue with the decisive, unequivocal, and fearless response of his new teammate, Kevin Durant:

In recent years, fans have watched Kevin Durant morph into a confident young man unafraid to speak his mind, even when it has meant locking horns with the media. His tweet in support of the league’s decision, while denouncing all forms of discrimination, is further evidence of his personal growth and maturity. Durant clearly understands the NBA’s efforts to foster and promote inclusion at every level, whether amongst players, coaches, and referees on the floor, or with fans in the stands, TV announcers along the sidelines, or hotdog vendors in the aisles. Surely, there are ticket- and jersey-buying gay people at every single game.

For having the courage to address the issue head-on, Kevin Durant wins our Fearlessly Speaking Truth to Power, Consequences Be Damned contest.

Silver Linings Playbook

Beyond the Warriors, the true leaders on North Carolina’s HB2 law are Adam Silver and Charles Barkley.

From the beginning of all of this when the North Carolina legislature passed the discriminatory law in March, Adam Silver reminded the public of the league’s “long record of speaking out where we see discrimination,” and expressed hope for modifications to the law that would allow Charlotte to host the All-Star Game in Charlotte, as planned. Silver certainly has backed his words with his actions by stripping Curry’s hometown of the All-Star Game, in protest over the law. But it also bears asking if a different outcome was possible. For example, would North Carolina lawmakers have been more willing to make changes to the law if Charlotte’s hometown son had joined Silver in his efforts? There is such a thing as star power, so even if legislators were to turn back from the law as a result of being star struck in Curry’s presence, it would have at least been a start.

In addition to Adam Silver, former NBA player/current TNT analyst, Charles Barkley, has spoken out forcefully against North Carolina’s HB2 law. In a June 8th interview on The Dan Patrick Show, Barkley stated: “I want to stand up for everyone, and to speak out on social issues… I’ve been trying to get the NBA to move the All-Star Game out of Charlotte... As I’ve said, and I told my boss, I don’t wanna act like I’m jumping on a sword. But I talked to Adam Silver – we need to move the All-Star Game.” Barkley’s aim to “stand up for everyone” is certainly different than Curry’s support for “African Americans and people of color.” Yes, Curry and all citizens should support the latter, but not at the expense of other groups facing injustices and inequality.

Barkley went on to say he would boycott the All-Star Game if the NBA did not move it from Charlotte. Certainly, Barkley and TNT are glad it didn’t come to that. But his intense advocacy for justice and equality of all citizens stands in stark contrast to the limited, cryptic, or evasive responses by key members of the Warriors’ team and organization, and by other NBA teams and organizations.

Strange as it is to have the strongest call for a moral stand come from Barkley, the bottom line is that this is an urgent matter, but a sense of urgency hasn’t made its way through the ranks of NBA players for some reason. Thus, we are left with the strange bedfellows of Silver and Barkley as the moral leaders on this issue, standing on the right side of history. With any hope, Silver’s leadership and Barkley’s sense of urgency will affect players’ understanding of, and response to, this issue.

For those struggling to conceptualize why the NBA’s stand against HB2 is a big deal, consider what happened this summer in Orlando.

On June 12th, roughly one month before the NBA withdrew the All-Star Game from Charlotte, forty-nine people were killed and dozens were injured in a massacre inside Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Just this week, the final survivor of this barbaric act was released from the hospital.

The killer targeted gay men in this rampage, and most of the victims were Latino people of color. Just as African-Americans and other groups have been subjected to systemic racism, bigotry, and discrimination leading to violence and death, so, too, have members of the LGBTQ community. But media rarely sees fit to report these crimes even though LGBTQ individuals are the victims of hate crimes far more frequently than African-Americans or Jewish Americans.

So, why haven’t more NBA players addressed these issues publicly?

Deadly silence

One theory is that players fear aligning themselves with issues pertaining to homosexuality. As stated in a recent Upworthy article, women’s sports – and the WNBA in particular – are light years ahead of men’s sports when it comes to players’ willingness to come out. This, despite Jason Collins coming out as the first openly gay NBA player in 2013. In the Upworthy article, Brittney Griner who is an openly gay WNBA player -- along with fellow Olympians Elena Delle Donne, Angel McCoughtry, and Seimone Augustus – states: “You’re worried about not being accepted, being rejected, being cast out. It’s tough. It’s really tough.”

With such deeply embedded homophobia in our society, it is quite possible that fear of rejection extends not only to being gay or coming out as gay, but to affiliation with gay people or issues affecting the LGBTQ community as well.

Of course, a legitimate alternate theory is that player silence is an indication of support for North Carolina’s HB2 law. In an interview on the day the NBA announced its decision to move the game, Brad Daugherty, a North Carolina native and ESPN analyst, spoke of Charlotte being part of the Bible Belt and citizens, therefore, being strongly motivated by religion and faith in support of HB2. Thus, it is possible or even likely that some players support the HB2 law on religious grounds and, therefore, opposed the league’s decision to move the All-Star Game from Charlotte.

It is widely known that Stephen Curry is an outspoken and devout Christian, thanks to his trademark thump of the chest, index finger to the sky move after making big shots. In an April 16th article posted on evangelist Billy Graham’s website, roughly a month after North Carolina passed the HB2 law, Curry is quoted as saying the gesture references, “the Man who died for our sins on the cross. I know I have a place in Heaven waiting for me because of Him, and that’s something no earthly prize or trophy could ever top.” He goes on to explain that he plays not to score a ton of points, but for one specific purpose: “to be a witness and to share my testimony.” Yet, in an interview with Fellowship of Christian Athletes magazine, Curry states that he’s not the type of Christian “who’s going to be over the top trying to bash people over the head with the Bible.”

So we know that Stephen Curry lives to serve “the Man who died for our sins on the cross.” But we do not know if he considers homosexuality to be one of those sins.

The Christian faith is varied, with some professed Christians, like Kentucky’s Rowan county clerk Kim Davis, refusing to grant marriage licenses to gay couples even though gay marriage is legal, and other Christians living openly gay lives, serving in the clergy, or advocating for the rights of the LGBTQ community.

Because HB2 is such a hot-button, politically- and religiously-charged issue, it is easy to see why Curry chose the path of avoidance in a what can only be a deemed a lose-lose situation. Had he come out in support of HB2, people the world over would label him a hate-filled homophobe; had he come out against HB2 (and in support of league’s decision to move the game from Charlotte) some of his Christian brethren would have branded him a nonbeliever. But can speaking for the oppressed and disempowered, even at the expense of personal sacrifice, ever be considered a loss? Wouldn’t speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves exemplify the Christian values Curry claims to believe?

People want their athletes (actors, musicians, and other public figures) to use their platform to support the equality of all human beings. Average citizens who do not have the kind of voice and visibility that Stephen Curry does want him and people like him to speak in their favor. Many call this common decency. Some label it a moral obligation. Others chalk it up to being the price humans must pay to live in a civilized society.

ESPN’s Brad Daugherty went on to state emphatically that “the intolerance [of the HB2 law] is unacceptable.” These are very important words because they allude to the ways North Carolina’s HB2 law enables the kind of intolerance and homophobia that can lead to violence and death. When faced with matters of life or death, silence is not an option – even on religious grounds. Clearly, Stephen Curry, like the rest of U.S. society, is aware of the repeated and relentless killings of unarmed black males by police and the entrenched racism that affects all parts of life. This awareness is why he spoke in support of Colin Kaepernick’s screams for things in this country to change.

Although Stephen Curry did not follow new teammate Kevin Durant’s lead on July 21st in condemning the discriminatory HB2 law, or discrimination in general, it is not too late for him to do so. When matters truly come down to life or death, silence is not an option and it is never too late to speak on behalf of those who are silenced by oppression.

Whatever Curry’s reasons for keeping his lips zipped on HB2 so far, Elie Wiesel said it best: “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

For more on HB2, and the ways it affects the lives of all Americans, read North Carolina Justice Center’s “18 Questions, 18 Answers: The real facts behind House Bill 2.”

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