Why do we play this game with Dwight Howard? Why the double standard, where we expect and even on some deep level reward players like Draymond Green for being themselves, and when Howard does the same thing we cringe and then ridicule him for the crime of being himself. Howard didn’t enter the public sphere as a sage or inspirational figure or even an intellectual theorist. He played basketball. He rebounded. He was 6-10. But we expect an intellectual maturity he doesn’t own. We have never lowered expectations and that’s our flaw.
It’s cyclical. We want Dwight Howard to consider multiple points of view every once in a while, and not solely think about himself. When he doesn’t, we hold him in contempt. He digs in. The larger quilt, a thing called humanity and the subject of a Howard casual dismissal then raises the public disgust of him. It’s forgotten beneath the fugue of judgment. Cognitive dissonance is a Dwight Howard thing. He’s never going to be who you want him to be. He’s Dwight Howard. Stop expecting some ray of intellectual light. He is what he says he is. He hasn’t tried to trick or fool anyone. He’s not manipulating the public.
Dwight Howard prefers a maskless existence in the bubble because he is counting to ten when the math test requires him to count to 100. Howard thinks if he’s around NBA players who are overly tested he will be fine. It’s a reminder that Howard’s circle is incredibly small and includes only those in the NBA. He doesn’t consider the bigger picture, and perhaps it’s because he can’t. He lacks capacity, empathy or he just doesn’t care. But this is true. Within that small circle world of his are the Disney staff. The housekeepers and gardeners and cook and chefs and waitresses who go home. They leave the bubble and interact with their friends and family and then return to NBA players.
The mask doesn’t just save Howard’s life but it mitigates the risk of the lives of those who have to work at Disney because they need to keep their job, even though what they are being asked to do is dangerous.
We love our cancel culture because it seems fair. Someone says the wrong thing or does the wrong thing and it’s over. For a country of enablers, behavior suddenly matters. In this fashion, Dwight Howard was ridiculed when he said vaccines are something he doesn’t believe in. Oh, he believes in babies dying? Of children deformed? Had Howard done appropriate research he would know the facts of vaccines themselves and their history, which includes vaccinations against smallpox, rabies, diphtheria, tetanus, cholera, plague, typhoid. Vaccines have saved thousands of babies born in underdeveloped countries who lack access to clean water, nutrition, and privileges children in developed nations take for granted. Vaccines have saved thousands of American lives from death or disability. Without vaccines polio, measles, mumps would have spread the way Covid-19 is spreading.
I know someone who didn’t have the polio vaccine and then was stricken with polio. The effects were devastating. His left leg lost all of its muscle mass. As did his left hip. He walks with a severe limp because the vaccine was refused by someone in his family. Growing up he was considered a freak and was never picked on anyone’s team. He wasn’t allowed to play sports despite his nice jumpshot from behind the arc. People looked at his leg and said “deformed.” Teachers assumed he was stupid. Landlords looked at his leg and refused to rent to him, fearing his disability. He became an inspirational figure and aspirational figure, a multi-millionaire business owner who overcame tragedy. But his childhood was difficult because he wasn’t given a vaccine. He had choices taken away.
People like Howard have the privilege of perfect bodies and they have the judgment of a four-year-old. They can’t see beyond their own lives to someone else’s suffering. Lives have been saved because of vaccines.
But Howard being an anti-vaxxer isn’t really the point. It’s not what Howard believes. It is what media members expect him to believe. This whole idea about athletes and their platforms is a bunch of wasted air. Athletes are representative of the human species. Some are thoughtful enough to offer comments on the things they have an understanding about. Others, like Howard, and Kyrie Irving, toss out opinion because it’s antithetical to public thought. Howard and Irving think being a dissenter grants them intellectual relevance when really they are just an athlete vomiting something they don’t know anything about.
Nevertheless, Howard has every right to believe what he believes. Kanye West just said Harriet Tubman didn’t free slaves. But let’s stop the anointing of Howard as some kind of wise person who is bringing information and enlightenment to the masses when that has never been the case. Unlike LeBron James, Howard has never used his “platform” to weigh in on social or justice issues. On misogyny, or black grievance. He has never wanted to incite social media violence and cancel culture. Howard wants to be liked and so he slowly walks two steps forward, one step back.
When it comes to Dwight Howard though we do the opposite. We take one step forward but two steps back. He’s not Bill Russell. He’s not LeBron James. He’s not Colin Kapernick. His opinions matter to his family but he isn’t a John Lewis figure leading the masses to the truth. He is trying to lead the Lakers to a title.
It’s something. But it’s not everything.