The NFL has been taking a well-deserved beating this week for prohibiting players from kneeling during the national anthem.
Meanwhile, the NBA, which has had an almost identical policy for years, has gotten a free pass.
People seem to forget that. Outspoken Warriors coach Steve Kerr certainly did on Thursday when he threw rocks from inside a glass house and ripped the NFL’s anthem policy as “idiotic.” If he was a football player, they might wonder if Kerr was practicing without a helmet.
“They’re basically trying to use the anthem as fake patriotism, nationalism, scaring people,” Kerr said. “It’s idiotic, but that’s how the NFL has handled their business. I’m proud to be in a league that understands patriotism in America is about free speech, peacefully protesting.
“I think our leadership in the NBA understands that the NFL players were kneeling to protest police brutality, to protest racial inequality. They weren’t disrespecting the flag or the military. Our president decided to make it about that and the NFL followed suit and pandered to their fan base.
“That created this hysterical … It’s kind of what’s wrong with our country right now. People in high places are trying to divide us, divide loyalties and make this about the flag, as if the flag is something other than what it really is,” Kerr said. “It’s a representation of what we’re about — diversity, peaceful protest, right to free speech. It’s really ironic, actually, what the NFL is doing.”
OK, now let’s see what would happen if Kerr and his socially conscious players took a knee during “The Star Spangled Banner” before Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.
They don’t have to. We know exactly what would happen. The NBA would fine the daylights out of them for violating the rule that mandates “Players, coaches and trainers are to stand and line up in a dignified posture along the sidelines or on the foul line during the playing of the national anthem.”
You should know that’s not the NFL’s rule. That’s right out of the NBA rule book. And if you think the so-called most progressive pro sports league on the planet would be accepting of players testing the anthem rule, look no further than last September when NBA players were flat-out warned to remain upright during the song.
In a memo to teams, deputy NBA commissioner Mark Tatum reminded them, “The NBA has a rule that players, coaches and trainers stand respectfully for the anthem. The league office will determine how to deal with any possible instance in which a player, coach or trainer does not stand for the anthem. (Teams do not have the discretion to waive this rule).”
And if you’re curious what penalty NBA players would face if they do step out of line, look no further than Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, the Muslim former Nugget who refused to stand because of his religious and personal beliefs in 1996. Abdul-Rauf called the flag a “symbol of oppression, of tyranny.”
“This country has a long history of that,” he said. “I don’t think you can argue the facts. You can’t be for God and for oppression. It’s clear in the Koran, Islam is the only way. I don’t criticize those who stand, so don’t criticize me for sitting. I won’t waver from my decision.”
The NBA suspended him one game and he had to give up $31,707 in salary as punishment. He agreed to stand and pray during the anthem going forward.
Kerr, who was playing for the Bulls at the time, must not remember that.
Like the NFL, the anthem rule was instituted without being collectively bargained with the players. The NBA and NFL rules are both unilateral, but NBA owners get none of the flack NFL team owners receive.
Still, the Abdul-Rauf suspension was not the first or last time the NBA stepped on the freedom of its players. Almost 10 years later, in 2005 and in direct response to the Malice at the Palace brawl, the NBA became the first major pro league to institute a dress code when it outlawed hip hop attire and banned players from wearing jerseys, jewelry, jeans and do-rags as a desperate reach to repair its image. NBA players are now subject to suspensions and fines if they don’t dress right.
Talk about pandering.
The NBA has gotten a free pass on these issues for decades, and it is not likely going to be criticized for banning anthem demonstrations with the vitriol reserved for the NFL. Maybe that’s because the NBA hasn’t gone there yet, and no players have mustered the courage to challenge the rule since Colin Kaepernick started the movement two years ago. Honestly, would Kerr and his super team be suspended if they took a knee in solidarity with the issues they purport to be so passionate about? Would socially conscious LeBron James get docked for taking a knee?
The NBA has obviously stifled protest, so we may never know. Instead, it’s been the women of the WNBA who have taken a knee and challenged the rules. And guess what? They won.
In 2016, the entire Indiana Fever team and two players from the Phoenix Mercury took a knee during the national anthem before a playoff game. Earlier that summer, the WNBA fined teams including the Liberty, Fever and Mercury $5,000 each and every player $500 who violated uniform rules and wore Black Lives Matter/Dallas 5 T-shirts during warmups.
The fines were rescinded, but that should not detract from the fact that the NBA and its sister WNBA, which are thought to be the most progressive and socially conscious of all the pro sports leagues, are just as oppressive as the NFL.