Prior to this year, Donovan Mitchell was the most popular Jazz player of them all. Unquestionably. Everybody around here loved him. Everybody. His jersey and shoe sales were off the charts. His play on the court was at an All-Star level, eliciting huge cheers in the arena. His personality had captured the imagination and adoration of fans all over Utah and beyond. That admiration was universal. Dude was randomly being invited over to private backyard pool parties. The young man could have been voted in as mayor of the town in and for which he plays, maybe governor of the state, too.
But speaking of politics, his proper activist voice in calling for solutions to racial injustice and police violence — calls that not only are justified, but badly needed in a country supposedly of and for the free — has upset some scoop of fans, putting a dent on Mitchell’s otherwise unblemished popularity.
He is not the only prominent athlete to suffer a few dents.
When Mitchell participated in a recent roundtable discussion with Joe Biden’s vice presidential running mate Kamala Harris, alongside CJ McCollum and Tobias Harris, Tobias Harris suffered a few fender-benders with fans telling him essentially to shut up and dribble.
Harris responded on Twitter thusly: “I’m a bit confused, so because we play in the NBA and have a salary we can’t talk politics? But how you earn your salary as a doctor, janitor, lawyer, teacher, plumber, store manager, cashier, entrepreneur, server etc. automatically makes you more qualified to discuss politics?”
Fans telling Mitchell, or any other athlete, to stay silent when problems plaguing the United States — as great a country as it is, though sadly far from perfect, still — cry out for recognition and action to address them and solve them is about as un-American a thing as could be conjured.
If those fans want to counter Mitchell’s opinions, if they have different ideas, that’s their right also.
But if the chef at your favorite restaurant, your preferred barber, your pharmacist, your dog groomer, your trusted mechanic, your banker, your friend, or your mother harbors a slightly different political ideology than you, do you tell them to shut the hell up and abandon them?
Mitchell and some of the others are better at what they do than all but the tiniest fraction of humans on the planet. They are exceptional, extraordinary. And just like your favorite chef, they’ve earned your respect and your business, your fandom, through those unique talents.
If they are outspoken in their opinions, and you disagree with them, so what?
They are Americans, many of them, maybe you’re an American. You can agree or disagree all you want. But does that really affect the way you respond to them as a fan, or now former fan, as you root for your home team to win basketball games?
Whatever happened to being able to agree to agree or to agree to disagree and moving forward in a productive manner to seek for a desired sports goal?
One of the greatest hopes of Larry Miller, an opinionated man himself, and of Gail Miller, a strong woman herself, as it pertains to owning the Jazz was and is to provide a center point around which the sports community can rally, divided as it is in its collegiate partisanship. That rallying can be done, and enjoyed, together, regardless of politics, even if those who play major roles in the rallying disagree on political matters of the day.
From this corner, it’s hard to understand why anyone would have difficulty supporting any movement for equality and justice for people who haven’t always had it, particularly focusing in on people of color. Why the objection to that?
It’s hard to understand why some fans would turn away from their season tickets or groups of fans would bail on their suites at Vivint Arena because players in a basketball league would dare to offer up sincere calls for social and racial justice, for better education, for fairness and equality, while those who are somehow threatened by those calls lean on the idea that … no, no, no, all y’all, all lives matter. No matter that all lives are not equally treated.
But … people can and will think what they do.
It was Aristotle who said: “The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.”
In this country, if you disagree with that, you are free to do so.
You can also cheer or stop cheering for athletes who work and sweat and practice and play and bust their humps — and, granted, are paid nicely to do so — to help your team win, whatever your opinions are. Look at what Mitchell did in the bubble after he had gotten more than a little blowback for publicly expressing his thoughts. He played better than he ever has, putting up a couple of 50-plus-point games, on top of playing diligently and unselfishly, giving his all, giving his team and its fans his all. No matter what the player’s or players' opinions are, no matter what anyone else’s opinion is, that much stays the same.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.