NBA players decided Thursday to end their brief strike and finish the playoffs. One reason, among many, is that playing games provides a far bigger platform to express their perspectives while promoting social justice causes.
The platform won’t reach everyone, of course. Not even close. There are millions of Americans who don’t want to hear anything from the players and are apparently offended at pretty much anything they do.
It’s not “shut up and dribble” as much as it’s just “shut up.”
It’s too bad critics are so sensitive because there is rarely anything lost by listening. Doesn’t mean you have to agree. Doesn’t mean that the perspective of well-meaning law enforcement isn’t also worth considering.
We should all try some “shut up and listen.” It’s not like the current way is working so well after all.
Protesters are often told that their actions — or the actions of the most out of control among them — ruin whatever message they are trying to express. Optics. Narrative. Well, as protests go, what NBA players did was as non-violent and non-intrusive as it gets. All that happened is they didn’t play basketball.
No vandalism. No fires. No looting. No casualties at all, except maybe to the midweek entertainment options of basketball fans. Instead, they held a couple of meetings in a Disney World hotel.
This can’t be characterized as un-American either (although, really, wasn’t the Boston Tea Party an exercise in looting and vandalism?). This didn’t take place during the national anthem or involve the American flag or anything like that.
They didn’t even demand anyone stop flying the Confederate flag.
They asked to be heard. That’s pretty much it. Just be heard. NBA players and coaches asked that a country that keeps repeating the same mistake consider a different point of view, consider the perspective of others before reflexively retreating to the same old corner and repeating the same mistakes.
So if not now, when? If not this way, then what way?
Yes, it takes a measure of grace to listen. It takes a measure of confidence to admit that maybe you don’t know everything. It takes humility and intelligence to be open to rethinking things.
Maybe those aren’t popular values in America these days, where rants and mean tweets and exploitive media on all sides profit off division and discomfort.
That kind of thinking suggests that NBA players shouldn’t express an opinion about what is happening in their communities and their country because they didn’t speak out forcefully enough about what’s going on in Hong Kong. It’s a bizarro purity test/talk-show trick designed to silence dissent. If it weren’t China, it’d be something else.
It works. Lots of people fall for it.
Those smart enough to see through it are the winners. You never lose by learning.
Maybe they got to hear Doc Rivers, current coach, former player and forever the son of a Chicagoland police officer, talking quite respectfully about the need for police reform that can weed out the few bad cops from the many good ones via better training and the end of peer silence.
"The training has to change in the police force," Rivers said. "The unions have to be taken down in the police force. My dad was a cop. I believe in good cops. We're not trying to defund the police and take all their money away. We're trying to get them to protect us, just like they protect everybody else.”
Maybe they got to watch the Milwaukee Bucks — who had one of their own, Sterling Brown, tasered outside a Walgreens by a cop in 2018 (a police investigation deemed it inappropriate) — attempt to spur specific action while appealing for calm in the streets of Kenosha.
“It is imperative for the Wisconsin state legislature to reconvene after months of inaction and take up meaningful measures to address issues of police accountability, brutality and criminal justice reform,” Bucks forward George Hill said. “We encourage all citizens to educate themselves, take peaceful and accountable actions, and remember to vote on November 3.”
Or maybe they got to hear from some of the listeners, such as Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who expressed his great fortune at being able to be a part of an open, emotional and diverse team meeting Monday before he and his teammates decided to cancel their practice.
“Feeling what my teammates are going through, it hurts and it hurts a lot,” Stafford said. “When people you care about go through things like that, it’s tough. I wish America, I wish everybody, could be on these calls or be in these meetings.”
Not everyone can be an NFL or NBA player. Not everyone can hear those personal testimonials, to see and feel the emotions up close. Not everyone enjoys a diverse (including thought) inner circle or work environment.
There are plenty of players trying to explain it all to the masses though, to tell what it’s like to be a Black father, a Black man, a Black kid, a Black driver, a Black homeowner, a Black whatever in America.
Why wouldn’t you listen? Again, you don’t have to agree with it all.
Yet for the oversensitive, that is apparently too much. Instead it is just “cancel” them. Just silence them. Just shout them down with “China, China, China.”
Just dismiss even the most well-meaning voice offering the most thoughtful of perspectives and the most personal of experiences.
Too bad, because if not now, when? If not this way, then what way?
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