The Brooklyn Nets suspended Kyrie Irving for at least five games for what the organization characterized as a repeated failure to “unequivocally say he has no antisemitic beliefs.” It is a stunning turn of events for a league that promotes itself as a supporter of free speech and social justice.
But it is an unsurprising outcome if you understand the social dynamics at play with respect to professional sports, big business, social media, and social justice.
William Rhoden, an award-winning journalist, wrote a book in 2006 called “40 Million Dollar Slaves,” in which he argued that black athletes had as little power in their respective sports as their enslaved ancestors had on plantations. Rhoden acknowledged the rich history of black athletes fighting for civil rights and admonished the athletes at the time to rekindle the revolutionary spirit to continue agitating for social change.
I have a strong aversion to the comparison of black athletes and entertainers to slaves because they make millions working for white people who make billions. American chattel slavery was brutal and dehumanizing, while professional athletes are paid like kings and treated like mini-gods by adoring fans across the globe. Every basketball player wants to “be like Mike.” No one wants to work like Kunta Kinte.
Using slavery in this way is an emotional manipulation tactic designed by the speaker to elicit sympathy for whatever personal cause he is trying to advance. Former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores used plantation rhetoric to bolster his lawsuit against the NFL.
That said, understanding Rhoden’s worldview goes a long way to explaining Kyrie’s present predicament.
If you believe that black athletes are $40 million slaves, then the black journalists and athletes turned broadcasters who have pushed the league to discipline Kyrie Irving since he refused to take the COVID shot are his million-dollar overseers.
This long list of influential voices includes Stephen A. Smith, Michael Wilbon, Jemele Hill, and Charles Barkley. At various times, each one has taken to the airwaves and social media to chastise Irving – and his teammates – for not wanting to take the jab.
For these overseers, COVID was just the warm-up. It allowed them to practice their lines about Irving’s selfishness, idiocy, and promotion of “harmful misinformation.”
The real game got kicked off when Irving shared a tweet linking to a documentary streaming on Amazon called “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America.” The film, which I doubt most of Irving’s critics have seen, is over three hours long. It revolves around the notion that black people in America are the “true” Israelites who have had their identity stolen over centuries. It also includes a graphic that calls the Holocaust a “falsehood,” so I understand why Jewish people would be offended.
I believe people who engage in Holocaust denial or blame Jewish people for all of the world’s problems are ignorant. But ignorance is not a crime in this country. If it were, the politicians, pundits, and professors who think men can have babies would be in jail and those arguing for teen genital mutilation in the name of “gender-affirming care” would be facing a life sentence.
The issue for Kyrie’s overseers, including less famous ones like Jesse Washington and Mike Freeman, isn’t anti-Semitism. No, Kyrie’s sin is the expression of unapproved thoughts, which is why their public humiliation ritual started over his refusal to take experimental drugs to play basketball in New York City.
They shill for pharmaceutical companies and violate the “my body, my choice” ethos of the modern left because, in a sad twist of fate, William Rhoden’s arguments had their intended effect.
Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem as an act of protest inspired a new generation of athletes to wear their activism on their jersey sleeves. Other NFL players joined Kaepernick in his protest, and eventually the league offered over $100 million to several initiatives under its “Inspire Change” campaign.
The players complained and the league relented. Corporate support of “racial justice” work from athletes went to a completely different level after George Floyd was killed in 2020. As William Rhoden noted in a 2021 retrospective column, “Throughout corporate America, in the wake of police shootings, capped by the public execution of Floyd, Black Lives Matter initiatives emerged like pop-up stores.”
In other words, the revolution was corporatized.
The NBA’s willingness to paint “Black Lives Matter” on the court or allow players to wear jerseys with such hard-hitting slogans as “Education Reform” and “Love Us” would seem to be a dream come true for older black journalists like Rhoden and Wilbon.
What these men, and their younger colleagues, fail to realize is that support comes at a price: complete obedience.
Corporate America now owns the revolutionaries.
There was near-universal condemnation from black journalists and sports commentators toward Kyrie for his refusal to take the COVID shot. Some saw his stance as a betrayal of his community, especially when the media reported on racial inequities in COVID cases and deaths. In addition, Pfizer paid too much money in media sponsorships during 2021 to allow a renegade like Kyrie Irving to influence regular Joes who had a similar feeling about the mandates they were facing.
To be clear, Kyrie would face the same punishment if he chose not to bow down to the left’s favorite idol: radical gender ideology. He would be dealing with even more intense pressure if he said he stands for girls’ sports and doesn’t think men who “identify” as women should be allowed to compete against female athletes. Retired NBA player Matt Barnes said something similar last week, but it would receive a lot more coverage from a current player of Irving’s stature.
Ultimately, this is about the use of corporate power, backed by the government and aided by the media, to police the thoughts of Americans.
Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr is the league’s foremost authority on social justice. During the NFL anthem protests, he stated, “I’m proud to be in a league that understands patriotism in America is about free speech.” Now he is saying that “in modern society, with social media, the way things can fan across the globe exponentially and get 5 million hits immediately, every comment matters.”
Kerr, the Nets, and the people who have dutifully tried to keep Kyrie in check for two years all believe “words matter” when it comes to content in a documentary very few people have seen. But somehow, these same people will partner with and defend hip-hop artists who have made millions over the past 30 years pushing death, degradation, and self-destruction in the black community. These are the same communities in which homicide is the leading cause of death for young black men, but for some strange reason the overseers in sports media consider that connection unworthy of their attention.
The people who lionize Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, John Carlos, and Tommie Smith now do the bidding of drug companies and tell athletes what movies they can watch. In this new era, compliance is mandatory and questions aren’t allowed. The professional overseers are shedding their revolutionary skin before our eyes. They ditched “power to the people” for a new slogan that tested off the charts in focus groups: “Just shut up and dribble.”