The NBA approved jersey political slogans are disappointing and an insult to the Black Lives Matter movement.
After indicating that the NBA and NBPA would “allow players to replace the last name on jerseys with statements on social justice,” per the Athletic’s Shams Chariana, the league and players’ association seem to have fallen a bit short on execution with their list of pre-approved messages. The list, e-mailed to players and first reported by ESPN’s Marc Spears, is as follows:
Black Lives Matter; Say Their Names; Vote; I Can’t Breathe; Justice; Peace; Equality; Freedom; Enough; Power to the People; Justice Now; Say Her Name; Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can); Liberation; See Us; Hear Us; Respect Us; Love Us; Listen; Listen to Us; Stand Up; Ally; Anti-Racist; I Am A Man; Speak Up; How Many More; Group Economics; Education Reform; and Mentor.
While several of these slogans reference and respond to the ongoing crisis of anti-black police violence (Black Lives Matter, I Can’t Breathe, and Say Her Name especially), I cannot help but feel that the league is saving face with pro-police fans and partners by avoiding the direct use of the word ‘police’ in any of these slogans.
This move by the NBA is the latest in a trend of corporations attempting to come out as “anti-racist” and in support of “black lives”, while avoiding addressing the central question: Why are we talking about Black Lives, in this moment? Why are we saying “Black Lives Matter”? This is not simply a movement for black pride and against racism, though these are of course vital elements of it. The Black Lives Matter movement is specifically about challenging the violently anti-black practices that are inherent in the American justice system; from the police, to the courts, to the prison system. This movement is about fundamentally rethinking that which we take for granted about law enforcement, its history, and its practices. By not allowing players to directly criticize the police, prisons, or the justice system, the NBA and players association falls well short of their stated goal of creating a platform for real social change.
It is important to say that “Black Lives Matter”, and it is important to strive to be “Anti-Racist”, but without being joined by explicit messaging critical of the police, these slogans fail to discuss how we protect and honor black lives, and how we combat racism in our communities. This lack of substance is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that, unlike WNBA players, NBA players can’t even put the names of the victims of police violence on their jerseys. The players can wear “Say Her Name,” and yet, they cannot actually say Breonna Taylor’s name. Nor can they use this space to call for the officers that murdered her to be fired or prosecuted or held accountable in any way.
One of the more impactful slogans on the list is “How Many More?”. And I echo this sentiment: How many more African-Americans need to be murdered by the police for the league to allow their players to use their platform to demand real change?
Image Source: AP Images