The NBA could learn a thing or two from its “little sister,” the WNBA.
After both leagues announced their intentions to resume their seasons, one of the highest priorities for players has been the opportunity to continue to address police brutality and racial injustice. It’s become so much of a sticking point that it damn near created a Civil War between players since some desperately want to play while others believe their energy would be better suited focusing on social activism.
So in an effort to appease both sides, the NBA extended an olive branch. Not only will the court have “Black Lives Matter” painted on it, but players have been given the green light to rock personalized social justice messages on their jerseys.
Everybody wins, right? Not entirely.
A number of players have openly criticized the personalized messages, since players can’t put whatever they want on their jerseys and instead must choose from a list that includes nebulous phrases like “Liberation,” “I Am a Man,” and “Listen.” If these sound a bit diluted, that’s because this is exactly what happens when you try to filter Black progress through billions of dollars in corporate interests—and players like Philadelphia 76ers forward Mike Scott ain’t having it.
“They gave us some names and phrases to put on the back of jerseys,” Scott told reporters during a video conference call. “That was terrible. It was a bad list, bad choice. They didn’t give players a chance to voice their opinion on it. They just gave us a list to pick from. That was bad. That’s terrible.”
Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown echoed those same sentiments but was a bit more tactful in his approach.
“I would like to see—because I think it can still happen—more options available to put on the back of our jerseys,” Brown told reporters. “We understand anything vulgar our league doesn’t necessarily represent, but for histories and causes such as now, I think that that list is an example of a form of limitation. I think we should be able to express our struggle just a little bit more.
“I was very disappointed in the list that was agreed to. I think things were tried and attempts were made to add to that list, but the NBA agreed that that list was satisfactory. Hopefully, we can get some more names on that list.”
Meanwhile, over in the WNBA, they’re taking the phrase “listen to Black women” to the next level. Huffington Post reports that players will not only wear warmups that feature “Black Lives Matter” and “Say Her Name” prominently, but they’ll call a thing a thing and wear the names of women who have been victims of racialized violence, such as Breonna Taylor and Sandra Bland.
“We are incredibly proud of WNBA players who continue to lead with their inspiring voices and effective actions in the league’s dedicated fight against systemic racism and violence,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in the statement.
How in the hell can the NBA mess this up so badly?
Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated reported that NBA players have declined to wear the names of victims of racially motivated incidents “due to concerns about offending those close to someone whose name might not be used,” but that sounds like bullshit. There are no favorites. Creating awareness around this issue inherently draws attention to other victims of racialized violence. Plus who does wearing tepid slogans like “Peace” or “Respect Us” even benefit?
If only the NBA was as serious about its commitment to racial justice as it is its commitment to protecting its corporate interests.