“Those [political] messages will be left off the court.” That's how Adam Silver talked about players fighting for social and political change they want to see in the future. The commissioner said he understands fans who support change but just want to watch a basketball game.
One of the theories that NBA ratings were down was the fact a larger group of fans than expected resented politics on the basketball court. That conclusion is dubious at best, as research shows the NBA gained as many viewers because of the protests as it lost for the same reason. The discussion is polarizing, and it isn't only happening amongst fans.
In a recent anonymous survey by The Athletic, one agent said, “they completely shit the bed with all this nonsense. They really hurt the business … All of this Black Lives Matter stuff.” Another went the other way and said that "from a social justice perspective it left something to be desired but still better than other sports leagues.” When it comes to politics, people will disagree on the issue and how to address it. So what's the right course of action?
In short, I agree with Commissioner Silver. Players should have all the freedom to express their views and support causes they feel passionate about, but they should do it off the court. Show up for work, play the game, and talk about the game. If that gets you a lot of attention, use it on your personal social media platforms, etc. to fight the good fight.
There was a lot of cancel culture going on in the Athletic article's comments, immediately concluding the agent who criticized the league and the players must be a Trump supporter and racist. Few things annoy me more than this recent phenomenon. There was nothing in his answer that definitively led to that conclusion.
As they say, the devil's in the details. Once you allow politics to enter the game itself, through "Black Lives Matter" on the court, social justice messages on jerseys, and players answering questions about the game with a political message, you are opening up the floodgate of political discourse. Is this BLM the movement or BLM the organization? The genie is out of the bottle and can't be put back in.
Once LeBron starts talking about equality, people will challenge him to treat issues in China the same way. If the agent should be canceled for saying the players "are being manipulated into something that they don’t really understand," shouldn't LeBron be canceled as well for saying the same thing about Morey? Situations like these are unavoidable.
As we have separation of Church and State for a reason, the same principle should apply to sports. I don't think the NBA lost a lot of viewers because of what happened in the bubble. The NFL, summertime, and the election cycle probably had more to do with the ratings drop. Not to mention Netflix and Fortnite (Shorten the regular season!!) But letting politics penetrate the game so profoundly is a slippery slope that will polarize something that's supposed to be a place of unity.
Another thing to consider. A recent Ringer article showed NBA owners overwhelmingly support and donate to Republicans. A majority of players, on the other hand, support Democrats. For this relationship to remain productive, both sides need to keep politics and business separate.
This is not a problem today, but it could be sooner than we think.