The NBA has grown a reputation for being a progressive league when it comes to dealing with its players and protests. After Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers sparked a country-wide debate about police brutality and social injustice by kneeling for the national anthem in protest of such disparities, his actions spread around the NFL and to college and high school teams as well. The expectation is that at the start of the NBA season there will be protests and social commentary made during the national anthem.
Although superstars like Stephen Curry have already said he will stand, others like Russell Westbrook have been open about wanting to use his platform to continue to raise awareness on issues of social injustice and racial oppression.
The NBA and the NBPA have been working together to develop ways they can take meaningful action. In recent history, the NBA and its players, especially the stars, have been vocal about social injustices and issue that plague their communities. From the entire Miami Heat team wearing hoodies in solidarity with slain teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012 and multiple teams wearing “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts in response to Eric Garner’s murder, to the handling of Donald Sterling and the relocation of the 2017 All-Star game from Charlotte to New Orleans, the NBA hasn’t shied away from taking public stances.
Because the NBA has a recent history of giving their players room to exercise their voice and with a national conversation happening about race and systematic oppression, commentary of some type should materialize in the NBA. Whether it be league-wide or dealt with by organization, expect many players to address the issue.
Training camps started on September 23rd and as players and team officials spoke to the media, they were asked about potential protests during the national anthem meant to highlight tragedies that continue to plague this country.
Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr gave a very nuanced statement to the media on the subject and said that every American should be disgusted by what’s been happening. “We will absolutely talk about it [protesting] as a team before our first game …” “I talked to some of the guys, and [they asked], ‘What does it mean to you?’ I’ve kind of given them my opinion. We’ve shared thoughts. That’s kind of the way we do things around here.
He went on to say that no matter what you agree or disagree with when it comes to methods of protest, the most important thing is that the protest has created an ongoing conversation and added, “In my mind, as long as the message is clear, I’m all for people speaking out against injustice no matter what form that takes. If it’s nonviolent and leads to conversation, then I think that’s beautiful.”
Russell Westbrook was asked about his thoughts on the recent events in Tulsa and stances like ones Kaepernick has been taking during media day for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He said that as an African-American athlete that has a voice it’s important that he make a stand and that something has to be done.
Four-time Olympian Carmelo Anthony has been very vocal about social issues and is a leading figure not only on the New York Knicks but in the NBA. During media day Knicks president Phil Jackson, general manager Steve Mills and head coach Jeff Hornacek discussed how the team will handle protests when the season starts. Jackson said, “We are trying to measure what our players want to do. We want them to do something that they all feel genuine about…We want to do something that’s unified and representative of who we are, and we want to be respectful.”
Although there is not yet an official word on a league-wide demonstration, what we do know is that players want to do something. Teams are working with their players to come up with effective ways to continue the conversation Kaepernick started by sitting during a preseason game. This means protests from the NBA may actually come in the form of collective demonstrations signed off by the NBA and NBPA. There is even a potential for the NBA to avoid public statements altogether, which is why they are being so proactive about the issue and dealing with it head on. However, that would take getting every player in the league not to take individual action. No matter how the commentary manifests, you can expect the NBA’s players, often the most vocal when it comes to social equality, to make a statement about recent events and a country plagued by police brutality.