The last thing the NBA wants is racial controversy. Take your pick as to why. Too many black players. Too many white customers. Many years ago, David Stern tried to wrestle control from the rap/hip-hop culture by installing a dress code. That made his white customers comfortable, seeing tall black men in suits rather than baggy jeans. It made the black NBA fanbase feel devalued. The distinction wasn’t lost on an insightful man like Stern.He just dismissed it on merit.
Whatever the NBA intended a decade later- you can draw conclusions from Adam Silver saying standing for the anthem was an appropriate thing to do- it took a turn south on the second night of the NBA season. It was not a LeBron James or Steph Curry moment to plunge the league and its documentarians into a social frenzy. Instead it was the lowly, inelegant 76ers, who have been a league joke the past few years instilling “The Process” and suffering a beating on a nightly basis because of it. These 76ers are a fry cry from the 76ers of glory years, Dr. J., Bobby Jones, Mo Cheeks, Allen Iverson. These 76ers have incentivized losing, have made it a ritual and a habit. And so there they were, the 76ers. They had a home opener.
Pop singer Sevyn Streeter was slated to sing the national anthem. But here is where the 76ers could not, would not, did not meet the moment. Streeter was pulled at the last minute. She was wearing a We Matter jersey and that was too much of a shout out to the Black Lives Matter movement for the 76ers which I suppose was too much of a shout out for equal rights and justice equality. The 76ers thought they were taking the path of least resistance by not putting her on the stage. The game was televised by ESPN. There were more cameras than usual, more reporters. So. Shove her away quietly. End all this We Matter talk. It is the kind of passive aggressive turning away that has brought Black Lives Matter into existence in the first place. All this suffering over dead men in private. All this stuffing of tears in quiet houses. Enough of the curtain hiding blood, sweat and tears.
While the 76ers can politely say no thank you to Streeter, millions don’t have that luxury. The 76ers, because of their institutional behavior and privilege can be dismissive. Business comes before empathy, right?
The 76ers, in a statement, said they prefer work in the community. It’s a total b.s. excuse that has nothing to do with why they removed a singer they had scheduled to perform. What is it about a black woman wearing a We Matter jersey that is so egregious? Do the 76ers disagree on principle? She doesn’t matter? Were they making a Trump point about the blacks? The irony of their exiling a singer who was there to sing the national anthem was striking in its fallacious reasoning and its threat. And by the way, the singing of the national anthem has a dress code now?
A month ago, the University of Vermont, a majority white educational institution, flew the Black Lives Matter flag next to the U.S. flag. It was a powerful aesthetic, a visual image of oneness, not blackness, not whiteness, but us, we, a collective group of people who care. Because that is the bottom line here. Compassion. Caring. Understanding. Or not.
The 76ers support convenience (for them). They support the absence of agony from irate ticket holders. They support smooth waters and no pissed off fans who want sports to be sports and not black folks racism issues infecting the product, regardless of the product being delivered on a platter by the same group of people who leave the arena and on any given night can be stopped and harassed by the police. If South Carolina Republican Senator Tim Scott is stopped by the police 8 times in one year as an elected U.S. senator, imagine what happens to the not senator crowd.
No need to imagine. This week in Mississippi white students put a noose around a black football players neck. At Xavier University in Cincinnati, white students shamed black students on Snapchat by appearing in black face and mocking Black Lives Matter and at the same time a skeleton hung from a window as if it was a body that was lynched. These are the purposeful footprints and potholes that make wearing a jersey of We Matter relevant in this time and place.
The NBA players are not blameless. Their passivity on this issue via arm touching as a solidarity gesture is a way of not dealing with a problem that needs to be dealt with. Addressing community needs is important but showing kinship and unification and, frankly, outrage at the pernicious, vile instances of racism needs more than a kumbaya moment of linking hands. Doing nothing encourages ordinary citizens to step in and be the voice the players refuse to be. Someone has to stand up for Black Lives Matters if the players won’t.
Last month, Danasia Lawrence revealed she was wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt then sang the anthem while kneeling at a 76ers game. The 76ers did not put into practice a dress or performance code after the incident. It would have saved them the unwanted publicity and grief over this incident.
Sevyn Streeter said she nearly cried after she was denied by the 76ers. “It nearly broke my heart” she said. “I felt it was important to express the ongoing challenges and ongoing injustice we face as a black community within the United States of America- that’s very important to me. Yes we live in the greatest country in the world but there are issues that cannot be ignored.”