In case you haven't heard, the NBA is back, or at least will be very soon. Basketball fans around the world are going to get their prized 2020 season after all. As one of those fans I would be lying if I said I wasn't at least a little excited while also being extremely skeptical of sports returning in the midst of a global pandemic (FYI, people are still dying). We're dealing with Billionaires though, rules simply do not apply. So what? A few people die, fuck it, lets get that TV revenue baby! Plus with the current state of things in the United States and around the world? We need a distraction! Enough politics right, Greg?
Who's Greg? Oh he's the guy with the sunglasses on in his car, you know, from twitter. There are thousands of them. The kind of person who might respond to #blacklivesmatter with #alllivesmatter or who treats the american flag (the very same flag that hung in homes of slave owners) with such reverence that simply kneeling during the anthem should warrant death threats. The kind of person who might tell an athlete to shut up and stick to sports. You know a Greg, everyone does. Greg is a fucking asshole.
Don't worry Greg, even though you're frustrated by the very thought of ending racism, you're still winning, by a lot. While Greg may be a lost cause, you and I are not. You see, what Greg has going for him is he doesn't want to give an inch. If you don't know what I'm really talking about by now you may be a lot like Greg. Greg sees the whole picture. I should say Greg sees HIS whole picture, which is this: A white man, freedoms intact. It's his world and everyone else is just living in it. Things have been great. As things stand, (cops murdering black folks included) Greg has it made. So when Greg sees a peaceful protest on the news, Greg becomes aware of that inch.
Feeling threatened, Greg logs onto Facebook to defend his inch. All of his energy and hatred goes into that one tiny inch. An inch, might I remind you, that simply represents black folks not getting shot in the streets by the people meant to protect them.
Now, while Greg and his wife Karen are pouring everything they have into that inch, there is a whole movement pushing right back.
Over. One. Inch.
Do you see what I'm getting at? Greg and Karen are facing an inch. People of colour are facing hundreds of years worth of accumulated miles. Say police brutality ended tomorrow, wow, amazing, great. Congrats on that inch! Now only thousands of miles to go.
The NBA is often touted as one of the worlds most inclusive and influential leagues. Players throughout history have been outspoken on issues of social justice and the league as a whole has done it's shallow part to celebrate diversity in all of the usual corporate ways. I try to be thankful, and I truly am but let's not get it wrong. The voices we're hearing are the players. The NBA is known for being a "players league", meaning that when we think about the NBA we think of the stars who dominate the game or the personalities that make every broadcast and interview a joy to watch. The truth is, the NBA is a business. As shallow as this example may be, the NBA represents the thousands of miles that people of colour face every day.
Behind (almost) every pride flag and black history month shirt lies a system of exploitation and profit. As far as leagues go, the NBA is still a leader in social justice but its a race in which first place still performs pathetically. Don't associate the voices of it's players with the moral worth of the business. Remember Donald Sterling? Yeah, he didn't just suddenly become a racist the day he was caught. That man owned the team for YEARS while people around the league were well aware of his blatant discrimination. He even hosted a "white out" party in which he asked all his players to show up in all white. What did he wear? Oh, just an entirely black outfit. What in the Get Out is that shit?
Seriously, here's a great podcast about one of the darkest sagas in sports history: https://30for30podcasts.com/sterling/
Sterling represents the most in your face issues that surround a league run by white "owners". A system of servitude and power dynamics so marred by white supremacy that it looks just like any good old american business. We're talking about billionaires again, we're talking about capitalism. This is the point.
It's. The. System.
Greg and Karen are fighting for their inch and it's important that we do too. But people of colour are fighting for everything and until people like me (a white, straight, cis-gendered man) can see beyond that inch and understand the miles ahead, this movement will be a moment. Be honest with yourself.
If you're reading this, you're probably like me, you love basketball. We love the sport, we love the players we idolized growing up, we don't need to blindly love the league that facilitates those things. As with everything in your life, examine it. White supremacy is alive and well in every part of our lives and whether you like it or not it's thriving in our beloved league.
Black Lives Matter means so much more than a simple preservation of life as it stands. It's about changing our world, the "good" and the bad. It means our comfort zones need to be challenged. It means holding the things we love under the microscope and asking ourselves how the system needs to be changed.
No one is free until we're all free.