NBA Players like Kyrie Irving Want to Cancel the Season for Racial Justice. Here’s Why They’re Wrong.

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NBA player Kyrie Irving. Image by Erik Drost.

Earlier this year, the NBA temporarily postponed their season after a Utah Jazz player caught Covid-19. Since then, the cause of social reform has picked up steam in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, among so many other black men and women.

But last week, NBA superstar Kyrie Irving made it known that he did not support the league’s summer plan to restart the season in Orlando, Florida–preferring to focus on the racial justice advocacy that needs to be done.

(note: there are legitimate health concerns that weave in and out of this discussion. But that’s a topic for another piece.)

While Irving’s concerns are coming from a good place, he’s flat out wrong on the question of whether social justice will be advanced or postponed by the NBA’s return.

Integrate Racial Equality into Your Daily Life

Broadly speaking, there are two parts to social change: raising awareness and changing institutions.

The raising awareness is what we’ve been seeing over the past month. Going out to the streets, protesting, marching. These are all seriously important first steps in the march for social justice. But they’re only first steps.

What’s just as important is what you do when you come home from the march. The question is: how exactly are you trying to integrate racial equality into your everyday life?

By calling for the league to cancel its season, Irving misunderstands the way social change works.

First, Irving is overestimating how big of an impact the NBA will have if they decide to cancel the rest of the season. Irving seems to believe their decision to not play basketball will create some splash of racial justice awareness. In reality, it’ll make little difference. People who are already on board with racial justice reforms like repealing and replacing the police will remain on board. People who are skeptical will remain skeptical.

However, if the league does come back, millions of dollars of economic revenue will be created. This money can then be reinvesting into the institutions that are actually working to improve our unjust systems.

It would be nice to say inspiring things like ‘money isn’t everything in the quest for justice.’ But the truth is, money matters.

If the league comes back:

  • Kneeling during the national anthem as well as other symbols for racial equality can be displayed on an NBA platform that is much bigger than any stage an individual player could join out on the streets.
  • There can be (digital) celebrations of black American life during halftimes
  • Players will earn extra salary that they can then pledge to donate to police justice organizations
  • Workers around Orlando, Florida, many of them minorities, will receive a salary for the first time in months

Other players are saying that the NBA would serve as a distraction. As one Los Angeles Clippers player put it, if a fan was gonna go out and protest, but instead stays home to watch a game–then the NBA has pulled attention away from issues that are more important than basketball.

Again, this argument misses the point of social change. The goal was never to go outside to protest and then stay out there indefinitely. The goal was always to come back home and try to do the work within our own lives to make a more integrated, equality-focused society.

Putting your life on hold to fight for racial justice somewhat misses the point. What we need to do is integrate the cause of racial justice into our own homes, our own workplace, and our own community. Racism must be tackled both inside and outside.

Thanks for reading.

Hi there. I write about public policy, politics, the presidency, and culture.

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