In The Scope: NBA All-Star Weekend Highlights Social Justice Movement In Sports

“In The Scope With Joshua M. Hicks” is  a weekly column from the Managing Editor of WARR 

This past weekend the city of Los Angeles welcomed back the NBA’s All-Star Weekend and they did not disappoint with this latest installment of showcasing stars and ballers of all types.

L.A. has to seem like a perfect place to hold an event like All-Star Weekend, with all the amenities and play areas Southern California has to offer. Surely there were countless exclusive parties and concerts to schedule around the three-point and dunk contests and the All-Star game itself, but in spite of the glamorous settings this weekend also did more to highlight honest-to-goodness on the ground progressive action than most events of its type. 

One thing we can be sure of coming out of the All-Star Weekend — beyond the fact that Fergie should go back to the drawing board — is that the NBA is the most progressive professional sports league in the world and that every other league, particularly the NFL, should take notice of that.

As stark a development as there’s been in sports in recent years has been the NBA making it known that it is an organization that supports equality among all walks of life and does so while feeding off the opinions and social progression of its fan base:

— The now retired Jason Collins became the first athlete out of the four major leagues to openly come out the closet during his 13-year tenure in the league. Important league figures like former commissioner David Stern, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Collins’ brother, Jarron, a current assistant coach for the Warriors, all publicly supported Jason and LGBTQ rights.

— When Eric Garner was killed by the men in blue due to the aggressive police brutality that led to his infamous quote “I Can’t Breathe”, Derrick Rose, LeBron James and Bryant led a league-wide movement by warming up in “I Can’t Breathe” shirts before current commissioner Adam Silver shut down the operation –even though he supported the concept — due to league policy. We can’t forget the role WNBA players played either in initially making anti-police violence statements on court.

— At the 2016 ESPYS, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade and James used their platform to speak out against the gun violence and police brutality against African-Americans. This foursome in particular have leaned into roles as outspoken social leaders in the NBA and those same players continue to use their platforms to speak out against inequalities in America, with efforts highlighted during All-Star weekend.

Wade, Melo and CP3 participated in a special Sports and Society round-table with CNN political analyst Angela Rye and former Obama White House adviser Valerie Jarrett to discuss the importance of using their platforms to create positive change in the black community and be a voice black people and other underrepresented communities.

The league also conducted an NBA Voices segment during the Saturday night competitions to thank current and former NBA athletes for using their platform to help make positive change regarding social justice issues in and out of the league. A prime example of which played out this past week after Fox News host Laura Ingraham’s snotty “shut-up and dribble” retort to James in response to Kevin Durant and James’ pointed words against President Donald Trump in an video with ESPN’s Cari Champion for James’ Uninterrupted YouTube channel.

Coming out of the controversy James saw universal support from the NBA, including fellow players and commissioner Silver. TNT also used much time during its All-Star coverage to bring light to the issue and express support for James as well.

Compare the unified and people-first stance of the NBA with the NFL’s record as similar issues came to its doorstep.

Michael Sam, the first major college football player to come out as gay, was drafted by the Rams and did not even last a season in the game. Spurious reasons regarding Sam’s mental status and his play were thrown out by league representatives as to why the pioneering linebacker didn’t catch on, but Sam says the reason he couldn’t play football at the highest level is much more simple than that.

“I think if I never would have came out, never would have said those words out to the public, I would still be currently in the NFL,” Sam told Lindsay Gibbs of Think Progress in 2016.

Criticism of the NFL remained warranted in the light of revelations such as 2016 draftee Eli Apple’s exposing of teams for questioning draftees about their sexuality in pre-draft interviews.

The NFL’s established record with sexuality trends as progressive in comparison to its record with violence against women, an issue the league still struggles with. And race? You can sum the faults the NFL is facing regarding race in two words: Colin Kaepernick.

Instead of rallying behind Kaepernick’s protests — ones targeted against the unfair injustices toward black and brown minorities in society and NOT the American Flag or American Soldiers or anything else right-wing extremists have backed up — the NFL blackballed him and excluded him from the league. And with many athletes joining in protest, especially when Trump openly called protesters to be fired from the league on national TV, some owners continued to threaten their athletes from protesting unless they be benched or unemployed.

The lack of symmetry in regards to the NFL and NBA when it comes to social justice issues is striking and its a reason why the NBA is becoming the most fan-friendly league, a league trending up among the youth and communities of color. Just listen to the Logo.

If the NFL wants to get a better hold on its declining TV ratings and dissipating social standing then Roger Goodell should call and take notes from Silver instead of continuing to add gasoline to fires they can not put out.

Joshua M. Hicks is a Chicago-based sports writer and broadcaster, follow him on Twitter @jhicks042; Follow We Are Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under We Are Regal Radio

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