It seems that some sports fans are angry and frustrated at NBA players for being angry and frustrated about the racial inequality in the country, and their demonstrating that anger and frustration by boycotting games and briefly considering threatening to walk out on the postseason in the bubble.
I’ve heard it all from those fans, accusing players of being “spoiled” and “out of touch” and “uneducated” and “meaning to do the country harm.” Some of those fans have indicated they “are done” with the Utah Jazz and the NBA as a whole. They don’t care about NBA games anymore, they say, and when things settle down, they will not return to their former place in the seats.
They say they’ve had it.
This reactionary anger about the primary anger is perplexing.
When Donovan Mitchell, an intelligent, conscientious, law-abiding individual, says he does not feel safe in his own homeland on account of the color of his skin, the way some Black Americans have been and are treated by authorities, does that sound like someone who is spoiled or who is uneducated or meaning to take down the United States of America?
Does he sound like someone you would advise to “Shut up and dribble”?
Anyone who would suggest that is running straight into the face of the principles that make America what it is.
I get it, people can react the way they choose. And we can disagree. Again, the beauty of being American. But the message being sent by most of these players — in the NBA, in the WNBA, in Major League Baseball, in Major League Soccer, and many other realms — is not just a nuisance to people who cannot or will not relate, it’s not a personal attack on Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen, whose team voted not to play, much to his chagrin, on Wednesday night. It’s not meant as a bother to people who are offended by the athletes’ actions. It is an attempt by individuals with higher profiles to give voice to those who for decades after decades have not been heard.
And if you’re white and put off by that collective voice, or worried that Black Lives Matter is some kind of threatening organization that will destroy the traditional family and the nation’s core values rather than a grassroots movement supported by a majority of Americans, calling for the equal treatment of all citizens regardless of their color, then stop and give it a little more thought.
This voice, this call, this movement goes beyond specific incidents of police violence, although those are hugely important, too. It goes to the manner in which people of color are treated every day, in the course of their normal living, sometimes to their great disadvantage.
Professional athletes, many of them, have beat that disadvantage, by way of their work, their talent, their unique determination and skills, their opportunity, and many of them recognize and acknowledge that. But they are still Black, a fact of which many of them are proud, as they should be.
For them, too, the ever-present threat of how they might be treated, in a different way than white people, even when they are completely within the framework of what would be considered responsible, is … exhausting.
And if they make some kind of mistake, say, get a speeding ticket, or drive an unregistered car, or get in an argument with someone, and authorities show up, they have to be worried about how their actions will be interpreted or misinterpreted.
I’m white. It hasn’t happened to me. But I’ve interviewed hundreds and hundreds of Black athletes over the course of a 40-plus-year career, and have heard their experiences and their concerns.
They are real, real troubling.
Not always extreme in cases of violence, but tangible, nonetheless.
A Black player on one of USC’s national championship teams who was pulled over on a traffic stop and roughed up by a police officer — until that officer noticed the national championship ring on his finger, and suddenly the cop’s demeanor changed, now full of respect. He was a Trojans fan.
Two Black players at Auburn who were headed to the school’s library to study and they were detained by an officer who sat them down on the curb in the rain over an extended period while said officer did a search on them — for doing nothing wrong.
“It’s not just the shooting, the killing, it’s the intimidation factor,” one of those athletes said. “It’s being diminished as a human being. That constant pressure. If you’re Black, there is no benefit of the doubt.”
Those who do get the benefit of the doubt, some of them angry former fans now, have the chance through all of this to stop, if they haven’t in the past, and think about that existence, what that would be like. Which is to say, if you’re not a person of color, maybe you can take the time to consider the plague of racial inequality, and rearrange your perspective a bit. Or a lot.
Many of these angry athletes are involved in their communities. They don’t just sit perched in their castles on a hill, wholly removed from the causes they’re backing at present. They want change and are doing what they can, beyond complaining about it before and after games, to nudge it forward.
Does anyone think angry NBA players, without cause, would prefer not to play, would prefer to disrupt a professional system that is paying them millions of dollars? They are giving that aforementioned voice to a movement that should move forward.
Is it perfect? Nothing ever is. But the thrust of it desperately cries for attention.
America might be great, but it needs significant improvement in certain areas. Pointing those areas out, with shouts and whispers, is a worthwhile endeavor. Burning buildings to the ground? No, not that. But just because some extremists do extreme things doesn’t discount the importance of the messages inside of peaceful protest.
Not playing a few games is peaceful, even if it is angry, and that message should stir new thought, not anger, in response, in the hearts of those who have been privileged enough in their lives heretofore not to be able to understand.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The zone.