Eric Walden: ‘Governor, what are you gonna do about the Utah Jazz being racist to white people?’ is a thing that really happened

Proving no good deed goes unpunished, a participant in Spencer Cox’s call-in show spurs white backlash online to the team’s program providing college scholarships for underrepresented minorities.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Morgan Elementary school students line up in the halls to say hello to Gov. Spencer Cox alongside First Lady Abby Cox as they visit the Morgan School District on April 14 which marks the first 100 days of his administration. At the start of his campaign Gov. Cox set out to visit all 248 cities and towns in the state and Morgan was the first one he visited.

I would say “I can’t believe this is a thing in 2021,” but that would be a lie. I absolutely can believe it.

I’m disappointed by it, depressed by it, disgusted by it … but, sadly, not surprised by it.

“David from Highland” called into KSL NewsRadio’s “Let Me Speak to the Governor” program livestreamed on FaceBook on Thursday and asked Gov. Spencer Cox about the Utah Jazz Scholars Program, which is providing one full-cost college scholarship to an underrepresented student of color for every victory by the team this season:

“Hi Governor, the Utah Jazz is excluding white children from consideration from their scholarship program. Do you think this is racist? And what will you do to prevent the Utah Jazz from acting in this racist manner?”

I remain in awe of the stunning ignorance required to view the situation through such a lens, but, again, I’m not surprised. The Jazz have had to issue lifetime bans to fans who yelled racist slurs at Russell Westbrook during games. Donovan Mitchell got a bunch of backlash for a Juneteenth post last year, and for his advocacy of racial justice issues while in the Orlando bubble. A local company very publicly canceled its luxury suite rental at Jazz games in response to the team kneeling during the national anthem in the bubble games.

The Jazz are having none of it.

In his introductory news conference, new team owner Ryan Smith was outspoken in his support, saying in part, that the team is “going to be actively anti-racist as an organization. We’re going to take our time and our energy and we’re going to use this platform to help make our communities more equitable, from education to health care. This is going to be one of the things we do, and it should have been done a hell of a long time ago.” So, y’know, shocker that he would fund college scholarships for minority students.

Coincidentally, NBA legend Dwyane Wade, who was announced Friday as a new part-owner of the Jazz, told ESPN that part of the appeal of joining Smith and the Jazz is their willingness to take on social and racial justice issues: “We’re not running away from the racial and social and LGBTQ conversations,” Wade said. “I’m committed to doing the work. I talk about the LGBTQ community, which everyone knows is important to me.”

Anyway, I became aware of “David from Highland” when I was tagged in a tweet by some rando opining on the subject: “Racist @utahjazz bowing to the mob. … Utah Jazz should be SUED for DISCRIMINATION.”

And so many people — so many — agreed with this sentiment.

“So what’s this got to do with college scholarships and denying white kids equal access, though?” some people are still asking.

Maybe you haven’t gotten the picture quite yet? That it’s people of color in this country who have faced institutional hurdles to equity?

No, that doesn’t move you? You just wanna know why poor white kids can’t get a fair shake, too?

Well, while a Jazz spokesman said the team had no official response to the controversy, he added that the team would defer to its original announcement about the purpose of the program.

Let’s specifically focus on the part where they cited research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service in explaining exactly why they’re giving the scholarships to non-white students:

“People of color are underrepresented in the classroom and workforce relative to the rest of the population, with Black and African American, Hispanic and Latinx, and Native American and Alaska Native groups remaining half as likely as their white peers to have a bachelor’s degree or higher and having higher unemployment rates than their white counterparts. The goal of the award is to help directly address these gaps by providing scholarships to students of color who have historically received fewer resources and less support.”

So, no, it’s not that the Utah Jazz don’t want poor white kids to have the ability to go to college. It’s that, in 20-freaking-21, people of color in this country are still feeling the ramifications of years and decades and centuries of oppression, to the point that they lag far behind in educational opportunity.

So, you wanna complain to me about white people being discriminated against here? In the words of Deborah Kingwood, Jazz forward Royce O’Neale’s mother, “Miss me with that.”