Some companies discourage talking politics in the workplace, but not the National Basketball Association. Late last week, the NBA and its players’ union sent a letter to players that read, in part, “You have real power to make a difference in the world, and we want you to know that the Players Association and the League are always available to help you figure out the most meaningful way to make that difference.”
Director of the Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation at the University of Texas at Austin, Daron Roberts says the commissioner of the NBA is likely behind this note on social activism.
“Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA has a history of really being pro-player when it comes to expressing views,” Roberts says. “You can think about one of the major decisions he first made, which was to ban the former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers… from the league because of the tapes that were leaked where he was using racial slurs.”
Roberts contrasts the NBA’s support for players who want to express their socio-political views with that of the National Football League.
“You’ve got the commissioner of the NBA saying, not only do we know that you have stances on social issues, but we want you to express them. And we want to help you do that. That is a very different stance than what you have seen from the NFL,” Roberts says.
The most prominent example of the NFL’s aversion to players engaging in social activism in that of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was booed when he took a knee during the National Anthem in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement at a game in 2016. Kaepernick, who was playing for the San Francisco 49ers at the time, remains unsigned since opting out of his contract with the 49ers in May.
“Fast forward to 2017, a lot of criticism has been levied toward the NFL and the way they handled the Kaepernick situation,” Roberts says. “I think what’s happened is that a lot of owners and general managers have sat down in a room and asked themselves ‘can we weather the public firestorm that would erupt if we signed Colin Kaepernick and the answer has been a resounding ‘no’.”
Meanwhile, marquee NBA players, including Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, have all been publicly vocal about social issues this year.
A former NFL coach himself, Roberts says he probably would have advised his players to remain silent on social issues in the past. But not anymore.
“I do think that players have to think about their legacy as individuals and not as athletes, and to start thinking about being more courageous and taking on these issues front and center,” he says.
Written by Kate Groetzinger.