SALT LAKE CITY — During a Zoom conference call with Utah media members, Quin Snyder discussed the current events and uttered a quote that attracted widespread attention for its depth and simplicity.
“The road from complacency to complicity is a slippery slope,” he said.
The Utah Jazz coach, in part, was referring to Donovan Mitchell’s recent tweets that centered on the racial unrest sweeping the country. In conjunction with NBA plans, Snyder continued to extend bringing awareness to racial injustices.
As part of the league’s return to play later this month, the NBA and its players are expected to further the cause during the eight-game regular season and playoffs. The league will reportedly have “Black Lives Matter” painted on the courts when play resumes July 30 at Disney World at Orlando, Florida.
The Jazz are scheduled to play the first game against the New Orleans Pelicans. Coincidentally or not, Jazz center Rudy Gobert’s positive test for the coronavirus on March 11 triggered the NBA halting the regular season.
In returning to play, NBA players want their push for social justice and equality to be a major part of the new season. Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul, who serves as the players’ union president, told ESPN the league and union were joining forces to allow players to wear uniforms with personalized statements focused on social justice on the back of jerseys in place of their last names.
Referencing Snyder’s aforementioned quote, the NBA has to navigate traveling down a slippery slope relative to ingratiating the activism in conjunction with the games. To use an extreme analogy, one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist.
All U.S. citizens have a right to express themselves on these social issues, as Mitchell has been doing in relation to the death of George Floyd in Minnesota in a police brutality case. During his conference call, Snyder supported his star player’s decision to go public with his sentiments.
Research indicates most Americans in general would agree with Snyder’s backing of Mitchell. A recent Pew Research poll shows two-thirds of adults support the Black Lives Matter movement, with 38% strongly supporting it.
As might be expected, the most favorable backing goes along racial lines. African American support is at 86%, followed by 77% for Hispanics, 75% of Asians and 60% of whites.
As with all professional sports, the goal is to get a broad-based following with the intent to generate as much revenue as possible. This is where it could get interesting for the NBA.
Not all fans agree with the concept of mixing sports with politics, even acknowledging that many don’t view the NBA’s forthcoming actions as politically motivated. But for those who do, they could cost the NBA money by avoiding the games on television.
The precedent is already there, based on the NFL experience. Immediately after then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem in 2016 to protest police brutality and racial injustice, NFL ratings plunged by double digits over the first quarter of the season.
The kneeling issue has abated in recent years, but it is expected to again take center stage in the upcoming season. Several NFL players already have stated their intention to kneel during the anthem before games to keep drawing attention to racial injustice issues.
For the most part, the NBA has avoided widespread backlash even as individual players have used various methods to bring awareness to particular situations. But now the league will be stepping forward in a manner it has not done to this level.
Staying true to their strong convictions, players likely won’t care if any actions in Orlando are not universally accepted. One question then becomes how many fans will react negatively toward it and, in effect, boycott the games, potentially costing the NBA cash at a time when budgets are tightening.