The White House has summarily dismissed the NBA’s calls for social justice. There is no other way to say it.
Protesting racial injustice in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake, NBA players did not participate in playoff games scheduled for Wednesday. The league postponed play. Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was shot multiple times by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, as he attempted to enter his vehicle on Sunday. His sons — ages 3, 5 and 8 — were in the backseat, the family’s attorney said. Blake remains hospitalized.
In response to a historic labor strike in American professional sports, President Donald Trump publicly told reporters on Thursday, “I don’t know much about the NBA. I know their ratings are bad because I think people are tired of the NBA. I know their ratings have been bad. That’s unfortunate. They’ve become a political organization and that’s not a good thing. I don’t think that’s a good thing for sports or the country.”
To summarize: In response to one of the nation’s highest-profile Black-majority businesses calling for racial equality, Trump repeated a falsehood about ratings and dismissed it as political. Even if it were true that the NBA has “become a political organization,” not a billion-dollar corporation, Trump is the face of American politics, and it would therefore fall under his job description to learn and address issues the NBA is raising.
He has done neither.
Before players went on strike, Trump took a stronger, if not equally dismissive, stance earlier this month, as a majority of players kneeled for the national anthem on a court featuring the words “Black Lives Matter,” sporting jerseys with a list of social justice statements ranging from “Respect Us” to “Education Reform.”
“There was a nastiness about the NBA the way it was done,” Trump said in a radio appearance on Fox Sports Radio’s “Outkick the Coverage” on Aug. 11, calling “some” players “very nasty” and “very dumb.”
What Trump failed to put into words was stated with greater clarity by Marc Short, the chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, in a Thursday interview with CNN: “If they want to protest, I don’t think we care.”
I don’t think we care. This is how we got here. NBA players marched in the streets across the country in May and June to protest the police killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man from Minneapolis, and the government did not care. In pre- and postgame interviews in July and August, NBA players repeatedly asked for justice for the police shooting of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman from Louisville, and the government did not care. So, NBA players have gone on strike, and the government does not care.
“In my mind, it’s absurd,” added Short. “It’s silly.”
The NBA players’ protest and those of the athletes in the three other sports leagues that followed suit coincided with the final two days of the Republican National Convention, and there was nary a mention of an industry shutting down in the face of racial injustice. Asked if the White House missed an opportunity to address the civil unrest in sports that headlined news across the nation, former RNC chairman Michael Steele told MSNBC, “No, because that’s not their audience. That is not part of the ongoing narrative, because what’s happening on our streets tonight, why the NBA has suspended its playoff games, is not part of their story. In fact, it is happening because of the lack of response, the lack of interest or concern.”
Trump and Pence did not cite the protests in Kenosha but did note the violence resulting from Blake’s shooting, although no specific mention was made of the 17-year-old counter-protester who allegedly killed two people and wounded another with a semi-automatic rifle. The RNC instead featured a primetime address from Mark and Patricia McCloskey — the St. Louis couple known solely for brandishing firearms at passing Black Lives Matter protesters in July — on the opening night of the convention.
The McCloskeys were charged in July with unlawful use of a weapon, a felony.
The president and vice president framed any mention of Kenosha in the broader context of giving law enforcement “back their power” to combat “violence and danger in the streets of many Democrat-run cities,” as if the abuse of that power has not incited the unrest and violence we’ve seen. The only mention of police misconduct was Trump’s as-yet-empty promise to hold violators accountable.
“This problem could easily be fixed if they wanted to,” Trump said of “Democrat-run cities like Kenosha.”
Only, there is no policy change with respect to criminal justice. There is no call for police reform. The administration’s only agenda thus far has been to dismiss the NBA’s calls for equality out of hand, so it is no wonder that the league must take matters into its own hands, returning to work with an agreement to fight for social justice on its own, with greater civic engagement in elections among its chief concerns.
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