Sports storylines forced to take back seat as political climate intensifies Global on Sep 26, 2017 09:54 AM
Sports storylines forced to take back seat
Golden State Warriors Stephen Curry takes questions from the media after NBA basketball practice in Oakland, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017. President Donald Trump doubled down on denouncing protests by NFL players and rescinded NBA star Stephen Curry's White House invitation on Saturday, a series of tweets that quickly inflamed football and basketball stars and even prompted LeBron James to call the president a "bum." (AP Photo/Janie McCauley)

By David Aldridge, TNT analyst

Lord knows this is not what one wants to write about as training camps open around the NBA this morning, not after one of the craziest and shape-shifting summers ever.

You want to write about the Thunder, pushing all its chips to the middle of the table, hoping to outplay the NBA’s Johnny Chan’s in one hand of Texas no-limit -- this year. You want to write about the new-look Cavs, made possible by Kyrie Irving insisting he needed a change of address. You want to write about Irving and Gordon Hayward in Boston, the seeming end of Danny Ainge’s roster shuffling, at least for a minute. You want to write about Kevin Durant, under cover of night, defending himself under assumed names on Twitter. (Why does someone as successful as KD, coming off a Finals MVP, do something like that? They write books and beats about that, I guess.)

But you can’t.

You have to write about the President of the United States’ Twitter war with the defending champion Warriors, and LeBron James’ rejoinder -- as of very, very early Monday morning, unofficially, the 12th-most liked Tweet of all time, at 1.43 million likes and (still) rising. The President’s disinvitation of the Warriors to the White House -- not that they were likely to go, anyway -- forces you not to Stick to Sports. Attention must be paid.

Not to the President, who will always seek division instead of consensus; insults instead of engagement. This makes him not unlike most who traffic in calumny for personal or political profit -- oh, the places Boss Hogg could have gone if not for those damned Duke boys always sticking their noses in his bidness -- but it does make the President an exceptional practitioner of the dark art. He’s good at this.

But the President’s Tweet Saturday morning followed the President’s words to a crowd of supporters in Alabama Friday night. Whether or not they were purposely timed to come close to one another or not, the fact is that they did. And the inescapable takeaway from their combined force was this: a rich white man looking to score political points by degrading athletes, primarily athletes of color. Whether he meant to do so or not, he put black men who have achieved great things in the last few years under a microscope, and then brought in a heatlamp to shine through the mirrors.

The irony of the President’s verbal attack on Colin Kaepernick for taking a knee last year while with the 49ers during the playing of the national anthem to protest police shootings of black people  -- “Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he's fired. He's fired,'" the President said Friday -- is that Kaepernick is the son of an African-American man and a white woman, and was raised by a white couple who adopted him when he was five weeks old. This would leave either his white birth mother, Heidi, or his white adopted mother, Teresa, as the B part of the SOB in question.

This led to shows of solidarity by NFL players on Sunday, with dozens of players taking knees as Kaepernick did while playing for the 49ers as the national anthem played. And almost all players from three teams -- Pittsburgh, Seattle and Tennessee -- stayed in the locker room during the playing of the anthem. To be fair, while the Seahawks’ players specifically cited “the injustice that has plagued people of color in this country” as a reason for their refusing to come out, the Steelers and Titans said their reasoning had more to do with wanting to show solidarity as a team. (And former Army Ranger and Steelers lineman Alejandro Villanueva came out and stood with hand over heart for the anthem, anyway.)

Meanwhile, Kaepernick, no matter his racial background, is currently unemployed, the subject of a rather crude de facto blacklisting by NFL owners, who hide behind words like “distraction” while Twitter bots insist that Kaepernick, the starting quarterback in the Super Bowl in 2013, is the lesser of the Mike Glennons and Tom Savages and Trevone Boykinses currently playing or holding clipboards around the league. No statistical/factual counterargument will sway them.

Stephen Curry, famously, is quite employed at present, a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player and now two-time NBA champion, with a $201 million contract -- a deal that will put him on an increasingly even playing field wealth-wise with the current Commander in Chief. Yet the President singled him out in his announcement that he was rescinding the Warriors’ invitation to the White House. Curry, the President said, was “hesitating,” based on his criticism of the President last week.

First, this is Steph Curry hesitating.

Second, Curry had, until last week, not said unequivocally what he was going to do. The Warriors had been, while discussing what they should do, at least toying with the idea of going -- speaking truth to power and all that. Someone genuinely interested in hearing opposing views, probably disagreeing but actually listening, maybe have extended an invitation anyway.

That is not an instinct the President possesses. When pushed, verbally, he pushes back, in 140 characters. And it is impossible to misinterpret his meaning, or the audience he hopes to sway with his words.

The president’s anger with Kaepernick (and, to a lesser degree, Curry) was clear, and real. Here was a person of color (despite his two white moms) who insisted on calling attention to what he believes is clear and compelling evidence of police brutality against other people of color. And instead of addressing that, the actual subject of Kaepernick’s protests, the President made this about “our” flag, the “our” unmistakable -- not Colin Kaepernick or anyone who thinks like him -- and “our shared customs, traditions and values.”

The conflating of the flag and the military with what Kaepernick is protesting is an awful tactic, designed to anger and cloud rather than produce dialogue, whether one agrees or disagrees with Kaepernick’s stance on police behavior. Not once has Kaepernick mentioned opposition to the flag, or to U.S. troops, or to anything except his belief that too many cops shoot and kill too many black people for no good reason.

Yet the NFL has made the flag and the troops ubiquitous symbols at its games, as omnipresent as the league shield most weeks in most stadiums -- and thus gained overwhelming support from fans who strongly support both. These fans, it should go without saying, do not support Kaepernick.

The President knows this, and speaks accordingly. And this is the troubling thing.

There was no ambiguity in what the President said and typed last week. But he wasn’t nearly as forceful in denouncing the actions of actual Nazis and white supremacists and their supporters following their march in Charlottesville in August. He hesitated (that word, again!) in condemning them, then condemned them, then walked it back a couple of days later, saying there were good and bad people on both sides of the protests.

One side was full of people protesting the presence of Nazis.

The other side was full of Nazis.

Who were chanting things like “Jews will not replace us,” and “Blood and Soil,” a slogan of the Nazis in Germany in the ‘30s.

There are those who would defend the President and his anger, saying that black people are too sensitive and overwrought, and that this isn’t about race at all, that this is more political correctness run amok. And, to be sure, some people just want to watch the football game, because sports takes us all away from all those other divisive things, and people would like to relax and put on their jerseys and cheer for their teams. But the whole point of protest is to make people uncomfortable; in their comfort, many wrongs are never even explored, much less righted.

And: the President’s first steps toward the Oval Office came as he questioned the citizenship of the previous president -- on Twitter, of course -- without a shred of proof or evidence. He demanded the previous president “prove” he was an American by producing his birth certificate. He questioned whether the previous president was smart enough to get the grades on his transcripts, and whether he actually wrote his first book “Dreams of My Father,” a national bestseller (“I think it was Bill Ayers,” the President told Sean Hannity in 2011, referring to the Weather Underground co-founder).

The previous president, of course, was the first person of color ever to be elected President of the United States -- a matter of some significance to a great many people, of all colors. That the current president denigrated him, made unfounded accusations about him which he finally had to walk back (grudgingly, and quickly) last year is also a matter of some significance to a great many people, of all colors. And thus the current president does not get -- has not earned -- the benefit of the doubt on these kinds of issues.

At every turn, the current President of the United States seems to be on one side when it comes to issues of race. It is not on the side of people of color, though he plaintively asked some of them “What the hell do you have to lose?” in asking for their votes last year. He uses people of color as strawmen, to be attacked verbally when it suits him; he went to Alabama, after all, to give his support to a U.S. Senate candidate, not to talk about football or Kaepernick. He chose to talk about football, and Kaepernick, and chose to wave off the Warriors.

The President doesn’t know the first thing about Steph Curry, and he doesn’t care to learn.

Which is why we can’t write about the Warriors and the Cavs, LeBron and Kyrie, CP3 and the Beard, LaVar and Lonzo, the rejuvenated Thunder, the dogged Spurs, the new-look Clippers, the Greek Freak or Dame Dolla.  Not this morning. Attention must be paid.

If you stand for nothing, Alexander Hamilton asked Aaron Burr in a musical of some success recently, what will you fall for? Which may explain why so many who have been blessed with so much nonetheless feel they have to take a knee instead.

Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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