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Monday, October 31, 2022

Will the NBA Suspend an Unrepentent Antisemite Who is One of the League's Biggest Stars?

In his first press conference after promoting a vile, antisemitic movie via a social media account that has over 4 million followers, Kyrie Irving not only refused to acknowledge that he is wrong and that his actions are hurtful, but he lashed out at a reporter who gave Irving an opportunity to retract his hateful stance. Instead of apologizing for promoting hate, Irving focused on the semantics of the word "promote." Here's a hint, Kyrie: when you have millions of followers and you post a link to a movie, you just promoted that movie to millions of followers.

Irving is not only ignorant of history and unwilling to acknowledge the responsibility that he shoulders as an influential public figure, but he is defiantly ignorant, and his defiance is grounded in a simple reality: he is confident that the NBA is not going to take any action against him. All that the NBA has done thus far in the wake of Irving's hateful act is issue a general condemnation of hate speech that did not even mention Irving by name. Irving is so powerful that the NBA will not even publicly rebuke him by name! NBA Commissioner Adam Silver understands very well that in order to keep receiving his paycheck it is in his interest to not fine or suspend Irving, or at least to wait for Irving to become so outrageous and toxic that he can "lead from behind" and discipline him amid a public outcry to do so.

Some would argue that Irving has a First Amendment free speech right to say what he thinks. That is true, but let's be clear about what the First Amendment protects and what it does not protect: it protects citizens from having their speech curtailed by government action. So, Irving has a right to make ignorant, hateful social media posts--and his employer has a right to fine him, suspend him, or even terminate his employment. Customers have a right to not buy products that he endorses. Other citizens have a right to speak out against Irving's ignorance.

The NBA has proven that it only cares about profits, not principle, and metes out punishment based not on the nature of the offense but rather on the popularity and power of the offender. That is why Donald Sterling was banned for life, Robert Sarver was suspended for a year, and Mark Cuban faced no punishment.

The NBA suspended Meyers Leonard last year for uttering an antisemitic slur but that was an easy call for the NBA: Leonard is a journeyman player who never averaged 10 ppg in a season, so suspending him makes the league look like it cares about antisemitism without facing any risk of a backlash. If the NBA suspends Kyrie Irving, people with clear minds will understand and applaud, but many fans will be outraged, which could cost the NBA a lot of money. No one is going to protest yelling "Free Meyers," but I could picture people protesting an Irving suspension.

It is not only the league that is hypocritical. NBA players spout off on a regular basis about social justice. Every NBA player who condemned Robert Sarver and/or Donald Sterling but is now silent about Kyrie Irving's blatant antisemitism is a hypocrite. Unless I missed an Irving condemnation, that list of hypocritical players includes but is not limited to LeBron James, Chris Paul, and Draymond Green (who is not only a hypocrite but who also somehow managed to punch out a teammate and avoid being suspended by his team or the league).

Let me be crystal clear: I am not defending Sterling, Sarver, or Cuban. I have said that Cuban should have been disciplined, and I have no problem with Sterling and Sarver being disciplined. The point is that the NBA and the NBA players are hypocrites who are not sincerely pursuing social justice but instead cynically pursuing profits while hypocritically and selectively voicing support for select causes and outrage at select offenses/offenders.

Bill Reiter is right on target

If you don't know much about the documentary Kyrie put out there, "Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America," you can read this excellent breakdown at Rolling Stone. The documentary is based on a book, written by the director, that is full of antisemitism, homophobia, xenophobia and Islamaphobia. That book purports many influential Jewish people "worship Satan or Lucifer."

It's awful stuff that deserves no equivocation. There's no excuse for sharing such garbage. Not a player's talent. Not the good deeds he's done in the past. Not the I'm-smarter-than-you series of deflections he tried to foist off Saturday night after his team lost to the Pacers, a game which dropped his team to 1-5 and required his teammates to address the antisemitism percolating on their star's social media.

The question now is what comes next. Teammate and fellow superstar Kevin Durant, asked if this was a distraction Saturday night, said, "Absolutely not. The only impact is you guys and everybody outside the locker room." 

If Durant is saying that he and his teammates don't care [about] the hateful ideas Kyrie is spouting and advancing, then shame on Durant and shame on his teammates. Talent and friendship shouldn't be covers or excuses for antisemitism, racism, misogyny and other forms of hate, a fact Durant and the NBA should know better than most. 

This is a league that, rightly and impressively, has tied much of its brand to social justice. That commitment to justice should not be paused because one of the NBA's stars doesn't like accountability when it's applied to him.

The NBA and the NBA players have a great opportunity to show how much they really care about fighting hatred and promoting social justice. I will be disappointed but not surprised by the deafening silence that will ensue.

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posted by David Friedman @ 8:13 PM



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