In 2018, NBA Players Opt To Control The Narrative Rather Than Shy Away From Politics

In 2018, NBA Players Opt To Control The Narrative Rather Than Shy Away From Politics

At the end of last year, President Trump was named “Most Influential Person in Sports“. After a full year of Kaepernick and Charlottesville and Trump tweeting about everything, it’s felt as though we’d reached terminal velocity. And, when this year began four months ago, it felt as though everything was set to simmer down.

But, that’s not what happened. If anything, in the NBA, it seems that players have gotten even more airing their opinions in public. For instance, In a fairly conservative State of Texas, San Antonio Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich continues to be one of Trump’s most vocal critics. Most recently, Popovich called out President Trump for his weak response to the shooting in Florida [via CBS]:

“The future of the country is a pretty big thing. There’s not one event that is going to signal what it’s going to be like in the future. But I can tell you that I’m sure most everybody is going to be unbelievably proud and excited about those students and what they’ve done. Because our politicians have certainly sat on their thumbs and just hidden. To most, it’s almost like a dereliction of duty to watch all these people get killed with guns — in so many different ways, whether it’s nightclubs, or schools, or cities. And it seems that the power and the money are more important than the lives. So to see these teenagers demand this, it takes you back.

You think about it, the civil rights movement didn’t flip or change until people saw things on TV. They saw policemen with fire hoses and dogs biting old black men and women, people being beaten with sticks. Then you get to the Vietnam War, and we’re in it forever, and then what happens? Film starts coming back with arms and legs blown off and coffins, and I can still remember the little girl who was napalmed running down the road. Things change when that happens. And in this one, in this situation, these students are the same way.

Images are important. Obviously you can’t put an image on TV of what happened in that classroom, that would be pretty horrifying. But if you just sit for a moment and imagine those bullets going through those bodies, and what those bodies might have looked like afterwards, how can the president of the country talk about all the things he’s going to do, and then go have lunch with the NRA and change it? It’s just cowardice. A real leader would have been in Washington D.C. this weekend, not at his penthouse at Mar-a-Lago. He would have had the decency to meet with a group, to see what’s going on, and how important it is, and how important our children should be to us. So for all those politicians involved, it’s just a dereliction of duty.

They can talk about the age limit, and background checks and all that, but the real discussion is what kind of a country, what kind of a culture do we want? You go back and investigate the second amendment. What does it really mean today? What are we willing to give up for the safety of our children. The people in power don’t want to talk about that. The fact that our president left town, is a real indication of how much he really cares about anything other than feeding his insatiable ego.”

Editorial statements like that are not uncommon in today’s NBA. In fact, in the league’s current climate it often seems like politics are front and center. In the words of Kyle Swenson of The Washington Post: “From mental health to guns, NBA players make voices heard in Trump era“. Part of the reason for this is that most of today’s athletes are “media-savvy” millennials who know the power of social media and how to wield it.

After the Warriors turned down an invite to the White House, opting instead to visit the Museum of African-American History, Steph Curry explained the decision to Esquire by saying: “We wanted to be able to control the narrative around the celebration and conversation of us winning a championship.”

And that’s what they did. After a full two years of being reactionary — of letting the narrative get dominated by the “Most Influential Person in Sports” — NBA players are grabbing the reigns again. And that’s what’s happening when players like Dwyane Wade begin campaigning for Parkland students, or Matt Barnes decides to take up a leadership position in the Stephon Clark protests. It’s a natural shift for people who’ve been forced to be “brand-conscious” almost from birth.
At a time when the tide could’ve gone the other way, NBA players are taking a stand. Instead of allowing political pundits to cow them into silence, they’re standing up to the Laura Ingrahams of the world. Not only will this generation not “shut up and dribble”, they’re going to get louder and they’re going to push back. They’re going to remind the armchair quarterbacks of talk radio that they do not have a monopoly on being outspoken.
Now, I have no idea how effective their actions may be (only time will tell), but after two years of Trump’s people controlling the narrative, it’s nice to hear some new voices. Maybe, in some small way, these players can act as a reminder that Washington is supposed to react to the will of the people, and not the other way around.