Drew Brees denounced kneeling during the national anthem without even acknowledging the underlying message of protesting racism, particularly through police brutality. That sparked major backlash – from New Orleans Saints teammates to Lakers star LeBron James.
As one ear-witness said, O’Neal told the coaches and players words approximating these: They’re going to try to divide you, just like they divided us with the Lakers! Me and Kobe [Bryant], we had a great thing going, but the media divided our team. We could have won five more championships! Stay strong. Don’t let the media divide you! Don’t let social media divide you!
We need to get past this predilection toward unity. Unity is good only if we’re uniting for good.
There are plenty of people who want us to unify behind silence – athletes shutting up, standing for the Star Spangled Banner and entertaining us. We appeared more united with that status quo. It made many comfortable.
But we were never truly united. Racism left black people behind and too often voiceless. Their struggles were too easily overlooked.
Now, people want meaningful change on racial injustice. They shouldn’t be pushed to unite with people who ignore and distort their message.
To his credit, Brees repeatedly apologized. That’s a step toward meaningful unity. Now, it’s on Brees to prove the sincerity of his words.
And the media didn’t divide the Lakers. Shaq and Kobe divided themselves.
Both had massive egos that grew even larger as the Lakers won. Shaq resented Kobe dominating the ball. Kobe resented Shaq not staying in shape. Their feud turned personal. They pitted teammates against each other.
The media didn’t create these problems. The media just chronicled the problems.
Eventually, Shaq and Kobe reconciled. They could always bond over their shared accomplishments. Their disputes were too trivial to endure.
That’s very different than the very real issue of racism, which must be confronted with meaningful change – not just letting bygones be bygones.