On the eve of the NBA’s first preseason games, the league office issued a memo to all 30 teams, which included the restatement of an existing rule requiring personnel to stand for the national anthem and offered alternatives for players to express their political and social views, Yahoo Sports has learned.
The focus of the memo, a follow-up to Thursday’s NBA Board of Governors meeting issued by deputy commissioner Mark Tatum and first reported by ESPN.com’s Zach Lowe, stresses the importance of owners, GMs and coaches communicating with players in an effort to promote substantive change.
Among the ideas suggested were hosting discussions with community leaders and law enforcement, highlighting the value of mentorship and using basketball as a tool to bring people together. The memo then lists some “key messages” the league hopes to convey, including the NBA’s anthem rule:
• “These are difficult and nuanced issues.”
• “We support and encourage players to express their views on matters that are important to them.”
• “The NBA has a rule that players, coaches and trainers stand respectfully for the anthem. The league office will determine how to deal with any possible instance in which a player, coach or trainer does not stand for the anthem. (Teams do not have the discretion to waive this rule).”
• “Our team’s focus remains on unity and collective action that leads to meaningful change in society. The players have embraced their roles in those efforts and we are proud of the work they do in our communities.”
• “We believe sports are a unifier and this is an opportunity for the NBA to once again lead by its core values of equality, inclusion and unity and to bridge divides and bring people together.”
The memo comes at the end of a week in which President Donald Trump rescinded a White House invitation to the NBA champion Golden State Warriors and used the term “sons of bitches” to describe NFL players who follow former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s lead of kneeling in protest of racial inequality, social injustice and police brutality during the national anthem.
Trump’s remarks prompted widespread protests across the NFL this past weekend and elicited harsh words from NBA players, coaches, executives and owners earlier in the week, including LeBron James, who called the president a “bum” and even suggested people who voted for him were “uneducated.”
The outrage was so emphatic that it appeared the NBA was united in its stance against Trump and others who believe players kneeling during the anthem are doing so in protest of “the flag” or the military that defends it, when in reality athletes are using that platform as an expression of their first amendment rights to shine a light on the racism and injustices that have divided the country.
So, NBA commissioner Adam Silver was asked about it at Thursday’s Board of Governors meeting.
“We have a rule that requires our players to stand for the anthem,” he said. “It’s been a rule as long as I’ve been involved with the league, and my expectation is that our players will continue to stand for the anthem.”
Prior to last season, after several high-profile players at the ESPYs called for political action in the wake of a series of police-involved shootings, there was some question as to whether NBA personnel would follow Kaepernick’s lead in kneeling. Instead, a number of teams interlocked arms during the anthem in an effort to demonstrate unity and remain within the league’s guidelines for conduct.
Silver expressed hope that players would continue to conform, and Friday’s memo reflected that.
“I have a concern as an American how divided our country is,” the commissioner said on Thursday. “We don’t live in isolation. We’re a country that faces extraordinarily difficult, complex global issues, and the fact that we’re so divided puts us at a huge disadvantage on the global stage.
“So in terms of our players and coaches, they have the same rights as all American citizens, and there is freedom of expression in this country. Ultimately, I believe our fans respect that. I don’t think our fans would ultimately want to be part of a system where there were consequences for what you’re describing as, in essence, core political speech. If you look at the origins of the First Amendment, there is probably no more pure speech than that which is political.
“Again, if they choose to express it, I think what’s important is they do it in a way that is respectful to our fans, respectful to people. They have these alternative platforms in which they can express their point of view.”
The league laid out two of those alternative platforms in the memo, suggesting players speak their minds prior to season openers through either pregame addresses or pre-packaged Jumbotron videos.
Lowe also reported that there is a segment of owners who have expressed concern about how player protests and statements regarding the president might put off fans on the other side of the aisle. The memo made no mention of the NBA’s highly politicized first week of training camp, instead stressing, “We support and encourage players to express their views on matters that are important to them.”
Now is probably a good time to mention that Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert told CNBC on Friday morning that he received the “most vile, disgusting, racist” voicemails following LeBron’s criticism of Trump. “There’s an element of racism in this country that I didn’t realize existed,” he said.
It’s almost as if the players are holding up a mirror to a segment of society, and some fail to see that opposing protests against racial inequality is just another example of discrimination. If nothing else, the protests are proving Kaepernick’s original point — racism exists in this country, and it’s a problem.
The NBA just hopes those protests come in the form of players making their voices and ideas heard rather than during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” That might be the league accepting the fact that some people are so protective of the anthem and the flag that they can’t get past any perceived disrespect of either to actually consider rectifying the injustices that led people to kneel in the first place. Either way, communicating thoughtful ideas for change is a necessary means toward making a difference.
Asked on Thursday if he would consider fining players who do not stand for the national anthem, Silver told reporters, “All I can say is if that were to happen, we’ll deal with it when it happens.”
To which National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts responded, via The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears on Friday evening, “I don’t like to play the ‘what if’ game. I’ll just borrow Silver’s language: ‘We, too, in the event discipline is imposed, will deal with it.'”
– – – – – – –