As the NBA moves towards reopening, a portion of NBA players have expressed their concerns. The idea of the NBA playing in a bubble has spurred worries about whether the idea could work, though the approval of Dr. Anthony Fauci indicates that the NBA at least has done its homework. But another concern, raised by players like Dwight Howard and Kyrie Irving, has been that the NBA’s reopening will overshadow the ongoing protests against racism and police brutality. The argument is that a resumption of basketball games will distract protesters, who will happily stay home to have circuses if not bread.
ESPN reports that this faction is small and that there is no indication that “there’s even a significant group of players willing to sit out.” But even a few players sitting out could damage any title team’s championship hopes, and would then spur controversy over whether the legitimate champion is relevant.
These players like Howard and Irving have good intentions in mind, as it is true that racism is more important than a mere sport. But the NBA can be a vehicle for good, and stopping play in the name of fighting racism is only going to cause greater problems.
The Dangers of Accelerationism
A key point in these protests, as well as the protests in the Civil Rights era, is that by and large the protesters have been the victims. Yes, there have been some incidents of looting, as well as the overblown silliness in Seattle event venue.
But the image that has been blasted in the news again and again has been overzealous cops using violent if not deadly reprisals against peaceful protesters. The protests have succeeded in improving public opinion against Black Lives Matter because they have not wronged the average individual and because they have portrayed themselves as victims.
But what happens if a great deal of NBA players, or even perhaps the whole league sits out in the name of fighting social justice? Then the league, and by extension the black players with the league, will be the ones committing the wrong in the eyes of many average citizens.
Is it a wrong as egregious as firing rubber bullets at protesters? No. But the unfortunate reality is that to the average apolitical person, their life will be more affected by a cancelled NBA season than by news of some hurt protester. Which means that person will be angrier at the former than the latter, even if that is not justice.
And of course, there are ways for NBA players to show their commitment towards racial justice on the court. I imagine kneeling during the national anthem, something which the NBA actually has rules against but has never had to enforce for some time, would be an obvious start.
If Black Lives Matter tries to make themselves out to be revolutionaries determined to radically alter the lives of Americans, they will drive potential supporters away. By and large, they have not done this which has helped create a groundswell of support. But NBA players refusing to play at the start of the season would undo much of this progress, creating resentment and ultimately harming the chance of real racial reform.