The NBA – as protests filled the streets in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, national sentiment on race shifted and players contemplated skipping the restart at Disney World – deliberately and visibly embraced social justice.
The league put Black Lives Matter on the courts and affirmed the message in greater depth. Teams kneeled during the national anthem. Players could wear social-justice messages on their jerseys. Owners pledged money for empowering the Black community. Players frequently used their platforms to speak out. The Bucks prompted a league-wide strike and called on politicians to take up police accountability and criminal-justice reform. Owners committed even more resources before games resumed.
An NBA agent, via The Athletic:
“They initially did a great job by putting the bubble together and they completely [s—] the bed with all this nonsense. They really hurt the business … All of this Black Lives Matter stuff … I think that the players are being manipulated into something that they don’t really understand and I think it’s a horrible look for the league and they need to be very clear about the organization, what they stand for … If that’s what the NBA wants to align with, they’re really hurting themselves … They’re not helping the players, they’re hurting the sport. When the ratings are down 30%, who are you helping?”
I know neither the identity of this agent nor what was said between the ellipses. But it sounds as if the agent is drawing a distinction between “Black lives matter” the phrase and “Black Lives Matter” the organization. There is a difference.
Black lives matter. That should be universally accepted.
People – even those committed to fighting for racial justice – can reasonably question tactics and proposed solutions of the Black Lives Matter organization. Saying “Black lives matter” can be about affirming the humanity and rights of Black people and opposing racism. It also lends credibility to the Black Lives Matter organization, which may or may or not be the speaker’s intent.
But so many people now support Black Lives Matter, the phrase and organization have become intertwined. People just rarely parse the difference. If this agent is well-intentioned, he or she won’t get anywhere until accepting that fact.
There’s something to be said about NBA players, who are mostly Black, protecting their salaries and using the money how they see fit. But it’s far from as simple as distancing themselves from Black Lives Matter.
Ratings are down for numerous reasons – cord cutting, increased viewing options, coronavirus altering the sports calendar, a diluted product, and, yes, politics in sports. Politics in sports goes both ways, though. Some people are turned off by all the messaging. Other people are dismayed by sports teams and leagues not doing enough.
It’s silly to pin the ratings decline on the NBA supporting Black Lives Matter.