Will the NBA Take a Stand Against Police Brutality?

Photo Credit: Kim Klement (USA TODAY Sports)

This past weekend my friend and I drove back home from Missouri when we passed a cop on the freeway. As we drove past his car, he pulled out of the turnaround and began to follow us. Without turning his lights on, he sped up to catch up to my car. He peered into the window, then slowed down and continued to follow us down the freeway. Shortly thereafter, I watched him park in another turnaround through my rearview mirror. I am sure that the only reason that I did not get pulled over, ticketed, and/or harassed is because of my white friend seated next to me.

Luckily, my life goes on — Daunte Wright does not have that privilege. Daunte is another victim of police brutality in Minnesota. I arrived in Minnesota this Sunday after an escape into the Ozark wilderness only to be slapped in the face by the harshness of reality. Mr. Wright had been shot and killed by Brooklyn Center police.

My heart hurts. My soul pangs for justice. My mind strays to other places — daydreaming of a world where I don’t have to live in fear of being murdered because of the color of my skin. My dreams won’t bring Daunte back, or George back, or Jamar or Philando, but what else do I have?

As Derek Chauvin’s trial presses forward, the timing of this shooting only amplifies the pain it causes. I watch every day as the prosecution builds its case against Chauvin. I acknowledge there are differences between these two incidents. Chauvin was cruel and relentless as he pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck. Kim Potter, the officer who shot Daunte, made a split-second decision. Regardless, both cases resulted in the loss of Black life.

In the wake of this tragic killing, the Minnesota Timberwolves decided to postpone their game against the Brooklyn Nets. I know that this is hurting the players. This is all too familiar to what happened this summer in Kenosha, Wis. when police shot Jacob Blake. The Milwaukee Bucks decided to boycott their game against the Orlando Magic last summer in the Bubble. When the Bucks took that action, it wasn’t long before the whole league followed. The league-wide boycott led to a meeting between the players, coaches, and owners to make an actionable plan for change before the players would continue to play.

The plan that came from this meeting was centered around voting access, voter education, and voter registration. The NBA was to put voting ad campaigns, voting messaging on the court, and most impactfully work to turn all of their arenas into voting polling places before the 2020 election. We saw the real-life impact of that as nearly 40,000 Georgians voted at the Atlanta Hawks’ State Farm Arena.

If NBA players took similar action to that which they took in the bubble, could they affect meaningful change in American policing? Obviously, this would be a much harder conversation to have as a league, but the issue of police brutality is nearly inescapable as a Black man in America. Just ask Sterling Brown.

I have a few ideas of actionable items that the NBA could put into place. One of the biggest issues facing Black Americans is the insurmountable economic deficit we face compared to White Americans. According to the Federal Reserve, an American Black family’s mean net worth is less than 15% of our white counterparts. Think about that for a moment. The economic crisis is one of the greatest plights of Black America.

It’s no secret that higher rates of poverty lead to higher rates of crime. If the average Black American’s economic situation were improved, then it would follow that they would be less likely to interact with law enforcement. The NBA is owned by some of the wealthiest, almost exclusively white, people in the world. The economic impact that these owners could have on the communities in the cities their teams are in could be huge. Racism cannot be solved without reparations. We need to rebalance the tables.

Could the NBA Board of Governors and the NBPA agree to give back a percentage of money to their communities? Could they raise the wages of the thousands of employees that work in their stadiums? Maybe they could pledge to revitalize historically Black communities in their cities. If these owners were willing to give up just a little bit, the impact could be huge.

If the NBA opts to go the education route as they did through their voting campaign, they could do so through a variety of methods. I would love it if the NBA would take on a police abolition initiative and chose to educate people about the ineffectiveness of police. If you want to read more about that, here is a good place to start.

Unfortunately, I think police abolition is a hair too radical for the NBA. But, still, there are ways the NBA can educate the American people. The root cause of police brutality is racism, both systematic — a country built on slavery that has generationally oppressed Black people — and individual — a 1-to-1 type of racism that causes someone to have so much fear they might mistake their gun for a Taser.

I think a simple way for the NBA to tilt toward anti-racist education is through a deeper partnership with Black Lives Matter. Beyond putting Black Lives Matter on their courts, the NBA can work to infuse BLM content into their commercial breaks and during their games. The hope here is to normalize BLM and integrate it into the American lexicon.

Sure, there are lots of grumpy boomers who will say “The NBA is only about politics now I’m never watching another game blah blah blah” and that’s OK. The NBA should be most concerned with holding onto their younger viewers, its future lifelong fans. The youth are the drivers of pop culture and as we’ve seen through BLM going viral, the more that young people hear and see it, the more normal it becomes. The bottom line is that the NBA has the power to impact a generation.

Whatever happens next with the NBA, it needs to be impactful. We’ve seen too much death and violence. American policing needs to change because it is killing my people. Will the NBA take a stand?

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