Press Box Perspective: Leagues and Owners Can’t Sit on the Sidelines

By Dan Hiner

We’re all aware of the national outrage involving the treatment of African-American men by police. After sitting on the sidelines for the most part, athletes from the NFL, WNBA and the NBA have decided to become active participants in bringing the injustice to light.

Athletes from across the sports landscape have, for the most part, shared the same thought in supporting their teammates. But the disconnect from the leagues and their predominantly white owners has become particularly disappointing.

Last week, two separate incidents come to mind. First, the NBA’s decision to keep its rule requiring all coaches, players and staff to stand during the national anthem, and Seattle Mariners catcher Steve Clevenger taking to Twitter to voice racist opinions about the Charlotte protests on Thursday.

In a letter obtained by The Undefeated, an online sports publication that focuses on social and racial issues, the NBA said it will not change the rule but the league will focus on “convening community conventions in NBA markets.”

The goal of these conventions is to create active dialogue between the community and law enforcement. That’s all well and good, but can we address the elephant in the room?

How can a league that has the highest African-American participation rate in the nation not actively support the NFL players that are taking a knee during the national anthem? Players from multiple teams, white and black, in the WNBA are mimicking their NFL and soccer counterparts, so why can’t the league that many young black males look to for inspiration?

Many thought NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who is considered extremely progressive compared to his predecessor David Stern, would have come to an agreement with the players. He worked with players and protests before and many thought there would have at least been an exception made for the season opener.

Now onto Clevenger, who was suspended by the Mariners for the rest of the season. He tweeted, “BLM [Black Lives Matter] is pathetic once again! Obama you are pathetic once again! Everyone involved should be locked behind bars like animals!”

In another tweet he said, “Black people beating whites when a thug got shot holding a gun by a black officer haha shit cracks me up! Keep kneeling for the Anthem!”

The Seattle Mariners released a statement expressing disappointment in Clevenger and said the organization was going to look into the situation more in depth.

But the organization should have released him on principle alone, and a 10-game suspension doesn’t seem long enough for this blunder.

Clevenger issued a statement to Fox Sports saying he was sorry that the tweets were taken out of context and said he was sorry for disrespecting MLB, his team, his family and anyone who was offended.

He later said he grew up in the streets of Baltimore and never considered his group of friends based on their race but their character. This is no more than another way of saying “I have black friends, so I can’t be racist.”

USA Today columnist Bob Nightengale wrote about Clevenger’s incompetency and reminded readers that in 2000, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig suspended Atlanta Braves closer John Rocker after he made racist remarks in an interview with Sports Illustrated.

Selig and the league released a statement after the Rocker incident saying, “Mr. Rocker should understand that his remarks offended practically every element of society and brought dishonor to himself, the Atlanta Braves and Major League Baseball.”

Clevenger and his remarks are no different. Those tweets not only offended everyone who read them but created negative publicity for the Seattle Mariners.

The NBA and MLB should understand that they are pillars in not just the African-American community, but American society as a whole. Boys and girls across the country look to their athletes and teams as role models.

So if the NBA wants to suspend players like Cleveland Cavaliers guard Iman Shumpert, who already said he will not stand for the national anthem, and if MLB decides not to take action against Clevenger, that’s within their rights as league offices.

But even if you don’t want to look at it from a business perspective, you should still think of the next generation. Racism is learned behavior, and it’s been passed down generation after generation for centuries in this country.

If leagues and franchises truly want to help make a change, they will join their players and stop sitting on the sidelines. The NBA and MLB need to become active participants.