On April 8, The Players’ Tribune published an article titled, Privileged by NBA guard Kyle Korver – who is currently with the Utah Jazz. In the piece, Korver reflects on a 2015 incident where NYPD officers broke teammate Thabo Sefolosha’s leg during an arrest – all charges were later dismissed – and a recent verbal altercation between Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook and a Jazz fan. Korver then grapples with his privilege as a white athlete in a majority black league, and calls other white Americans to actively combat racism wherever they see it.
“Demographically, if we’re being honest: I have more in common with the fans in the crowd at your average NBA game than I have with the players on the court,” he writes, adding his skin colour affords the opportunity to, “condemn every racist heckler I’ve ever known. But I can also fade into the crowd, and my face can blend in with the faces of those hecklers, any time I want.”
When I saw Korver penned the essay, my first reaction to his message – a grappling with his privilege as a white athlete in a majority black league – was admirable, brave and important.
My second impulse, however, quickly followed – “Don’t read the comments.”
When an athlete – or any other entertainer, for that matter – articulates a political position from a place of sincerity and passion, the responses from the online masses are immediate and predictable – “Shut up and dribble,” or “don’t be political,” or “stick to sports.”
I’ve never understood this impulse. I remember, as a 17-year-old, driving with a friend when an overtly political song came on the radio. He grew visibly irritated and said something along the lines of what I’ve outlined above.
I remember thinking, “Wait. These guys are humans, with beliefs and opinions, and there success as musicians has provided them a platform to express those opinions and beliefs. Why wouldn’t they get political?”
Politics is not reserved for politicians. We’re currently in the middle of an election, and every day, I see electricians, nurses, truckers and real estate agents using the platforms they have – usually Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media – to sound off on a range of political issues they find important, whether it’s pipelines, jobs, the carbon tax or LGBTQ rights.
What the “shut up and dribble” mentality fails to acknowledge is athletes are also humans, with a host of topics they are passionate about. The only difference is their platform is bigger, and their voices carry further.
I’m not saying those opinions should be swallowed uncritically. Every political position should be interrogated on its merits. But dismissing somebody’s views simply because of their occupation is just that – dismissive.