William F. Buckley, wit, writer and intellectual leader of the conservative movement of the last half of the 20th century, was a voice of the anti-establishment establishment.
“I’d rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston telephone directory than by the 2,000 people on the faculty of Harvard University,” he said.
(Of course, Buckley was a Yale man. So take that into consideration.)
My 21st-century answer to that is that I would rather be governed directly by the National Basketball Association than indirectly by the National Rifle Association.
Clearly, the power of the NRA over modern politics is inextricably tied to the white nationalist movement that propelled our Dear Leader into power and leaves so many other conservatives, Republicans and conservative Republicans unable or unwilling to face him down.
Or does anyone forget that that other great 20th-century conservative icon, Ronald Reagan, was all in favor of assault weapon bans when it was the Black Panthers who were brandishing them?
(No, young people, not King T’Challa. Huey Newton.)
The feeling that whites are losing their power to an increasingly multihued population is an, or perhaps the, inspiration behind today’s Second Amendment fundamentalism and the resulting death toll in schools, theaters, bars and shopping malls. Just as the fear of slave uprisings was the inspiration for its creation.
The NBA, though, has become an exemplar of multiculturalism. Not the kind driven by pity or what George W. Bush correctly called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” By the hard logic of what it takes to build the best teams, build them into the best league and make gazillions selling tickets, jerseys and TV rights. The gathering of talent, of every color and persuasion, from all over the world.
Right here in snow-white Utah (which, some folks may not know, is really very welcoming of refugees and immigrants), our NBA team stars a guy from France, a guy from Spain, two from Australia (one white and one black) and players from Sweden, Switzerland and New York.
League Commissioner Adam Silver, then new on the job, considered the leak of racist comments by the owner of one of the teams and did something pro sports commissioners are not known for doing. He fired the owner.
Two of the most successful coaches in the NBA are Gregg Popovich of San Antonio and Steve Kerr of Golden State. Their outspoken support for racial equality, criticism of conservative politics and belief that postgame news conferences are just downright rude on days when a lot of people have been shot have led to the creation of not a few “Popovich/Kerr 2020” bumper stickers.
Popovich is also the first coach of his level to hire a woman to be one of his top assistants. As explained in wonderfully direct Players’ Tribune essay by San Antonio player (and immigrant from Spain) Pau Gasol, Becky Hammon is head coaching material. NBA head coaching material.
So we may have a female head coach in a major men’s league before we have a female president. Because pro sports are much more likely to make decisions based on ability and talent, not popularity or Russian bots.
And Thursday, when the National Football League capitulated to the oaf in the White House and his campaign to beat down those uppity quarterbacks who had taken to kneeling during the national anthem, Kerr was having none of it.
“They’re just playing off their fan base, and they’re just basically trying to use the anthem as fake patriotism, nationalism, scaring people,” ESPN quoted the coach as saying. “It’s idiotic, but that’s how the NFL has handled their business.”
The NBA says it “expects” players to stand during the national anthem. And they do. But that league is much more likely to get what it expects because it does a much better job of treating the players with respect, backing their political causes, charities and, as was the case the other day in Milwaukee, encounters with greatly overzealous police officers.
Kerr, Popovich and company know how willfully idiotic it is to claim that kneeling is a sign of disrespect. Anyone who knows anything about religion, chivalry, humanity or, as basketball coaches must, knees, knows that kneeling is the polar opposite of disrespect. It is a supplication. A respectful, sincere and nonviolent plea made to the powerful by the powerless.
If the president and the owners of the NFL have interpreted the silent protest against racism, violence and police brutality as an act of disrespect of flag, country or veterans, they have played too many games without a helmet.
Of course, the NFL already treats its players as cannon fodder, or bulls in a ring, to be used up and thrown away with debilitating lifelong head and spine injuries. Violence and permanent injury are not incidental to the game. They are key to it. So totally disrespecting players’ political and cultural views is small change.
Which is why we really ought to give up on the NFL for good.
George Pyle, The Tribune’s editorial page editor, is and always has been totally inept at all forms of athletic competition. firstname.lastname@example.org