I’ve been a Jazz fan since I moved to Utah in 1989. Been there for Stockton-to-Malone, the NBA Finals, the 2003 season when everyone predicted it would be the worst team in the NBA and they went 42-40 behind Andrei Kirilenko and a ragtag bunch of misfits, through Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer, through the Coach Ty Corbin years, the Stayward campaign, the rocket-launch rise of Donovan Mitchell, and everything in between. I’ve written on sports sites about them, appeared on TV and radio to talk about them, do my own podcast on them. I love the Utah Jazz, and I love the NBA.
One thing that’s always hurt me is how Utah has a reputation for having the most racist fanbase. I believe this mostly came from demographics, and it came from players like Derek Harper who refused to come here, Shandon Anderson who refused to re-sign here, and players like JR Smith saying they were called the N-word by white fans during the game. I didn’t want to believe it. I couldn’t imagine a fan yelling the N-word at Smith, especially if he’s standing right next to Derrick Favors or Alec Burks, for example.
The Russell Westbrook confrontation was the beginning of me opening my eyes to yeah, we do have some racists out there. Telling him to get on his knees. Now the vast majority of racists don’t consider themselves racist, even when they start sentences with “I’m not racist, but…” It hurt my heart when I saw the footage of that fan yelling “BOY!!!” in a Southern accent at Westbrook, and the look on Westbrook’s face when he heard it.
I’m glad Gail Miller took a stand; I’m glad those fans were banned.
But 2020 has brought a new challenge to NBA fans. In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, NBA players are protesting. They’re speaking out. They’re saying “Black lives matter.” They’re calling for justice for Breonna Taylor. Scores of them are listing the examples of racism they’ve faced. Not in black-and-white footage from the 1960s. Their OWN experiences. And they know they’re the lucky ones. Donovan Mitchell felt like he had to wear his school gear everywhere to keep himself safe.
And yet, what do I see in replies to Utah Jazz Twitter or in comments of the Utah Jazz Facebook page? Scores of “fans” saying they’re done with the NBA. The sentiments are usually along the lines of “How dare you disrespect our flag.” “Stick to sports.” “Shut up and dribble.” “BLM is as bad as the KKK.” “Spoiled millionaires trying to tell me what to do.” “I bought my ticket, so I’m entitled to see you not kneel.”
There are a few basic things that for me are obvious but a lot of people either don’t understand or don’t want to understand or just disagree anyway, but here are the points I would make.
- “Black lives matter” means “Black lives matter too” not “Black lives matter more.” It’s a cry out for empathy.
- Rebutting “Black lives matter” with “All lives matter” is akin to someone having their house on fire, but the firemen decide to hose down every house on the block because “All houses matter.” Also, when someone says “Blue lives matter”, do you respond with “All jobs matter”?
- These rich and famous athletes aren’t protesting for just themselves. They know they have an amplified voice and this is their opportunity to use it to help and lift others, to bring about change, to put a spotlight on some basic problems with race relations and police reform that haven’t been addressed.
- I know in an effort to keep America divided, there are those who insist that kneeling in protest is disrespecting our country and disrespecting our flag. It is not. Kneeling is the most respectful form of protest there is.
- Personally I think it’s weird we play the national anthem before every game like we’re still living in the Cold War but that’s neither here nor there.
- I made my point-by-point response to David Rogers’ Why I Am Done with the NBA in the comments.
I understand people not wanting politics in sports. In our social media age, it feels like politics invades everything. Well, sports have always been political. From the Olympics to Jackie Robinson to Muhammed Ali to today, it’s been there. I support the NBA because, among other things, I support the players. I don’t just root for the jerseys, I root for the guys. I listen to their interviews and feel like I get to know them. I root for the league. I want it to grow in popularity. I want that moment of satisfaction, relief, and joy when my team wins. I’ve felt it when my NFL team won, but I want the same for the Utah Jazz. Because it’s UTAH!