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May 25, 2019

The Utah Jazz doesn’t get credit for recognizing racism after years of allowing it

March 16, 2019

Utah Jazz Owner Gail Miller thinks she deserves a pat on the back for permanently banning two fans this week that were caught on tape yelling racist things at Russell Westbrook.

In her mind, she’s doing the right thing.

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But Miller, like most fans in Utah, doesn’t realize that racism in her home arena has been a problem for years, and that seeking praise for retroactive actions is just as problematic as the original sin — maybe more so.

Earlier this week, a fan named Shane Keisel was permanently banned because he and his wife yelled at Westbrook “to get down on your knees like you’re used to” during a game on Monday night.

On Thursday night, Miller took to the court to speak to Jazz fans before their game against the Minnesota Timberwolves and told the crowd that, “this should never happen. We are not a racist community.”

By Friday morning, the Deseret News reported that the Jazz had also permanently banned a second fan when they became aware of footage from the 2018 postseason showing him repeatedly calling Westbrook a “boy.”

“When it first happened I talked to my roommate about it, and him being a white male, his first reaction was, ‘Oh, that’s a good heckle. That’s something I would say,” said Patrick McKnight to the Daily News about when he saw the video of Keisel racially taunting Westbrook.

“Right then I knew that these fans out here don’t know what good heckling is, or watch what they’re saying to people.”

McKnight is a Memphis native, attended school for some time at the University of Utah, and is now working out there. But you don’t have to take his words as Gospel because other NBA players have been openly talking about fans in Utah for years.

“The crowd is loud. They don’t care what they say to you,” said Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant last year in a story by the Deseret News on how Jazz fans have had multiple run-ins with NBA players over the years.

“Couldn’t believe it. More N-words than probably (they) had black people in the whole city, so it was a really racial situation and people say anything now because there’s no consequences for it,” said former NBA player Matt Barnes, speaking to Colin Cowherd when discussing the racial slurs he heard during the Warriors’ Western Conference semifinals series against the Jazz back in 2007.

For years it has been an open secret about how fans in Utah really get down, but all of sudden, Miller and the Jazz want to make it seem like they’re doing the right thing when they haven’t for so long.

“They’re very reluctant to realize how bad it is out here,” said McKnight. “I’m not saying it’s one of the most racist cities I’ve been in, but I am saying that they push it to the side. They know it’s there, they know it’s in the [arena], they listen to it, but they don’t do anything about it or stand up to anyone that partakes in these actions.

The fans who taunted Westbrook are banned, but they (Rick Bowmer / AP)

It’s just the culture, which is ‘it’s not affecting me, so it’s not any of my business.”

When the Jazz decided to ban Keisel on Tuesday, it was only after the altercation was caught on video, Westbrook’s teammate Raymond Felton backed his story, Jazz star Donovan Mitchell released a statement about it, and a full investigation was completed by the team before the final decision was made.

After years of this kind of activity going on, it still took four different things to happen for the Jazz to believe Westbrook’s claims and actually do something about it.

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But that’s how things work in America when you’re a person of color and racism is involved. Your claims or experiences are never enough proof, because to some white Americans, racism is some tangible thing that can only be understood when it’s seen on video.

Well, hate doesn’t work like that.

When Miller stepped on the court to say, “this should never happen. We are not a racist community,” it was a slap in the face to every player that’s been the target of racism in that building, and every person that’s ever experienced it.

Miller and Jazz fans alike must come to terms with the fact that something that should never happen actually occurs quite often, and that a community cannot be exculpated from racism when racist acts have been allowed to go unpunished. To deny that only covers up the problem rather than addressing it.

That’s what happens when people are colorblind.

A colorblind population is one that considers only itself, and one that is ignorant to the experiences and hardships that people of color — the Russell Westbrooks of the world — deal with every single day.

Carron J. Phillips lived and worked in Salt Lake City, Utah from May to September of 2011, when he was an intern at the Salt Lake Tribune.

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