Cynics may point out that NBA Cares, the league’s “global social responsibility program that builds on the NBA’s mission of addressing important social issues,” began soon after the league’s major low point — Malice in the Palace: the infamous brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills (Michigan) at the end of a Pistons-Pacers game in 2004.
What started as a basketbrawl between players escalated into a melee between players and fans after Metta World Peace — the artist formerly known as Ron Artest — stormed into the crowd to go after a guy who’d thrown a drink at him.
Now-disgraced referee Tim Donaghy was on the officiating squad, which could explain any frustrations and hot tempers amongst the players.
Then-NBA Commissioner David Stern had a public relations nightmare on his hands, and NBA Cares was borne, in part, to help rehabilitate the league’s image.
However, since its inception in 2005, “NBA Cares programs and participants have:
- provided more than 3.9 million hours of hands-on service;
- created more than 1,080 places where kids and families can live, learn or play in communities around the world; and
- engage[d] more than 12 million youth annually, inspiring play and teaching the values of the game.”
NBA Cares’ partners include: “Thurgood Marshall College Fund, Special Olympics, YMCA of the USA, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, UNICEF, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Share Our Strength and GLSEN.”
No matter the motive behind the original concept, NBA Cares has expanded to provide needed community service and outreach in the cities in which teams play — and far beyond.
Thus, by the mere existence of NBA Cares, the league insists that athletes should not stick to sports. Moreover, the league’s leadership — Commissioner Adam Silver and NBA Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts — penned a letter to players early this month encouraging their social activism:
“None of us operates in a vacuum. Critical issues that affect our society also impact you directly. 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 know that the Players Association and the League are always available to help you figure out the most meaningful way to make that difference.”
With community service and activism growing ever-deeper roots in the league, players and coaches feel more empowered than ever to speak out on political and social- justice issues. And, when they do speak out, sportswriters have a professional obligation to cover those stories — as ESPN’s Jemele Hill did, as GSoM’s Bram Kincheloe did.
Sadly, this type of coverage is only deemed problematic when it involves issues of racism and racial injustice. When players and coaches take a stand and say the repeated police killings of unarmed black men is a grave injustice and a threat to their very lives, some sports fans get riled.
By contrast, when the off-court coverage is about something players, teams and the league are doing to pump cash and other assistance into communities, everyone keeps their lips zipped. It’s only when the issue is racism that fans tell athletes, coaches and the journalists who cover them to stick to sports.
But, here’s the thing: Everyone is guaranteed freedom of speech under the law whether everyone agrees with the positions of those executing their rights. So, if the mandate is that athletes and coaches stick to sports, then, really, they need to stick to sports 100% of the time and decline to speak on any topics other than those related to their league, sport and individual play.
Specifically, if athletes, teams and leagues are to stick to sports, then NBA Cares would not have pulled together resources, including manpower and woman power, to support Hurricanes Harvey and Irma relief efforts.
If athletes are to pretend they do not see needs in their communities and use their time, celebrity, money and other resources to help others, then:
- WNBA Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner would not have organized Breakfast with BG, a fundraising effort to support relief and recovery efforts in her hometown of Houston following the destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey;
- And Griner certainly would not have organized a shoe drive with Phoenix Rescue Mission, which brought 659 pairs of lightly-worn shoes to the Phoenix homeless population;
- Sticking to sports, Houston Texans star JJ Watt would not have given $100,000 of his own money for relief and recovery efforts following Hurricane Harvey; he also would not have gone on to raise $37 million more;
- Oh, and the Golden State Warriors and Miami Heat would not have joined forces to help rescue animals separated from their owners during Hurricanes Harvey and Irma;
- While David West and his wife, Lesley, would not have spent thousands of dollars on prom dresses every year, for almost a decade, so that girls from disadvantaged backgrounds can enjoy this rite of passage most American teens enjoy;
- Also, Stephen Curry would not have had a designer make custom shoes honoring the young people who died in the Ghost Ship fire and then auctioned them off to donate the proceeds to support recovery efforts; and
- Kevin Durant would not have been a major contributor to community groups that help others, including his ongoing support of Positive Tomorrows — an Oklahoma school devoted towards meeting the specific needs of homeless youth. (And, yes, he continued to support the organization even after cupcake-crazed Oklahoma City fans degraded themselves by attempting to assassinate his character.)
Fans cannot have it both ways.
They cannot praise athletes when they are giving of their time and money to improve their communities only to tell them to shut the hell up when they dare say, These police killings aren’t right and I’m afraid for my safety.
For any fan who feels this way, we, at GSoM, challenge you to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask yourself why a human being — a son, brother, husband, father, nephew, uncle, friend — matters to you only when providing your entertainment.
Why, when a player steps off that court and is just another black man a single traffic stop away from being pumped full of bullets by a police officer’s gun, you couldn’t care less.
And why your anger is towards to the players and coaches who speak about these dire societal ills, but not towards the systemic racism which views black people as less than human and, therefore, easier to kill.
This is not fantastical hypothesizing, but fact.
Andre Iguodala said he fears for his safety off the court, and Thabo Sefolosha suffered a season-ending leg injury at the hands of a NYC police officer who roughed him up and, very likely, could have killed him. Sefolosha had done nothing wrong, unless handing cash to a homeless person is a crime; the cop who assaulted him said it was a case of “mistaken identity,” and Sefolosha won his lawsuit against the city.
When it comes to writers who cover these stories, the fans then kill the messengers — the journalists. They are angrier at the sportswriters covering stories involving racism than they are at racism itself. Journalists who have the professional integrity to cover racism truthfully — including the ways in which this societal scourge affects people’s lives — should be commended. After all, they are providing the same nuanced analysis of the subject that they give to other stories.
American University professor Ibram Kendi, in an interview with The Washington Post, stated that journalists have a professional obligation not only to cover racism, but to do so in the same manner in which they cover other subjects, like devastation caused by hurricanes:
“I think one of the fundamental responsibilities of a journalist is not only to report the news, but in reporting the news, to be simultaneously categorizing what is happening in society. We categorize hurricanes as horrific for people suffering through it. We categorize mass murder as horrific. The adjectives and descriptions and categories journalists use allow us consuming their journalism to understand it. One of the categories that journalists are reluctant to use, and which breeds misunderstanding and lack of understanding is the category of racism and white supremacists. To me that means journalists should be categorizing individuals, ideas and policies as racism. It will give people the ability to understand that in the way that we so freely categorize everything else. … If somebody pushes a campaign that attracts primarily white voters on the basis that he's going to make the country in the image of white people again, we should be willing to categorize those actions as what they are — white supremacist or racist. If journalists are not going to do it, who’s going to do it?”
We, at GSoM, are committed to covering social-justice issues that players, coaches and others affiliated with the Warriors bring to light. It is our professional and moral duty to do so, no matter the outcry from some segments of the Warriors’ fan base.
If you are a fan who cheers loudly when your favorite player has a great game, but grumbles when he opens his mouth about police killings of black men, maybe it’s time for some honest, self-reflection. If you cannot value a player as a human being suffering under the injustices of racism — and the fears inherent in racism — what right do you have to call yourself a fan in the first place?