It’s one of the silly distractions that somehow passes for political discussion in America right now — NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem before games to protest police brutality and racial inequality in the United States. It has become one “us or them” issues that are used as a wedge and political debate, turning something nuanced and worthy of discussion into a — literally, often — black or white issue.
The Sacramento Kings’ Ben McLemore waded right into it.
Approached by TMZ outside a club and asked about the issue, the shooting guard dove in.
“You should always represent our nation. That’s how I feel. I think you always should.”
Does the message the players want to send get lost in the debate?
“In (the NFL’s case) it’s getting lost, but in our sport, in the NBA, I think it’s not.”
That got picked up by a number of aggregation sites, and the spin (as it was at TMZ) is that McLemore slammed NFL players. He put out a statement to correct that perception.
Good job by McLemore getting out in front of this and clarifying his thoughts. None of us form our best arguments confronted while in a car outside a bar. McLemore stepped up with detailed, respectful thoughts — this is more the kind of debate we need to have around the issue of racial injustice in this nation. The debate about kneeling during the anthem is just used to divide and distract from the bigger question. Plus, protest is part of this nation, part of the rights veterans fought for, and why Colin Kaepernick spoke with veterans about how to do this protest before he started it.
Players taking a knee for the anthem has not been an issue in the NBA (and the league would like to keep it that way). It’s not an issue for a few reasons. One, the NBA’s core demographic is different from the NFL’s — it’s younger, it’s more diverse, and it’s more urban. If an NBA player protested during the anthem it would not get near the same vitriol and pushback from the fanbase. It’s a key reason President Donald Trump taking Twitter shots at the NBA or is players doesn’t have the same impact.
Second, the power dynamic between NBA owners and players is different from the NFL’s, in that the elite players have it and own it. NBA owners would not push back against LeBron James, union president Chris Paul, or any other star players on a social justice issue because those teams would feel a talent backlash quickly. Due to basic supply and demand, elite NBA players have a lot of power and they are learning how to wield it.
Third, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and the league as a who have encouraged players to speak out on social issues, it does not try to stifle them. The league wants guys to speak out, to engage. That is not the sense from the more conservative management style of the NFL.