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Stiffs shootaround: The NFL and the NBA couldn’t be more different

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It’s not the decision itself, it’s how it was carried out

NUGGETS V BULLS

Let me say this first. I’m not here to argue left vs right, conservatism vs liberalism or republican vs democrat. I’m not here to talk about patriotism, nationalism or honoring/dishonoring our military. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for two years, you already know all about Colin Kaepernick’s decision to use the United States anthem as a vehicle to protest racial injustice in our country. You’ve also very likely made up your mind on where you stand on the issue and are entrenched in that position. I highly doubt anything I can say or write is going to change your opinion.

What I will talk about though, is how when the NFL unilaterally made the decision on their anthem policy without involving any of its players (and according to at least one report, to the dissatisfaction of some of its owners) they once again highlighted the striking difference between themselves and the NBA for all the wrong reasons. It was an extremely short sighted approach.

I get why they did it; the alternative was to have a player take a knee on opening day and face the inevitable back lash when outside agendas then leveraged that act for themselves. Here’s the thing though: controversies die out, presidential terms end, and political and social viewpoints change over time. What won’t change is the black eye the NFL owners gave to the players by no longer involving them in this decision and the comeuppance that the owners will face when they do have to involve the players in all decisions when the current CBA expires.

That’s where the difference starts between the NFL and the NBA. Denver Nuggets fans know all too well about the NBA and their own anthem controversy when Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf refused to stand. Eventually Rauf would agree to stand with his hands held in prayer after he had been suspended and fined. A year later he was effectively black balled from the league despite being an elite shooter who was only 29 years old. This is where the NBA diverges from the NFL. Like the NFL, the NBA too made a clear ruling on whether or not a player must stand for the anthem (the NBA’s wording is that players are to “stand in a dignified posture”) but the major difference is that the NBA’s anthem policy was not unilaterally decided on by the owners. Rauf was suspended indefinitely for his stance, but the suspension lasted just one game after he and the NBA came to a mutual compromise. Later, the owners and the players union collectively bargained on the anthem rule to make it what it is today.

That’s why the NBA is different. It isn’t that they haven’t made the same rules as the NFL did this week, it’s that they sought out the players and their opinions on the matter and heard their grievances and took them into consideration. That has never happened in the NFL on this topic. Why? Because the NFL has one thing on its mind. It isn’t patriotism or standing up for our military. It isn’t oppression or politics. It’s money.

Make no mistake, there is no greedier league in all of America than the NFL. It’s why they covered up CTE, it’s why the Ray Rice situation was such a debacle, it’s why players like Greg Hardy were allowed to continue to play despite being terrible human beings. The NFL doesn’t care about protecting its players or protecting innocent victims from its players and it doesn’t care about about the anthem (unless of course, there’s a hefty paycheck coming from the DoD). The NFL cares about dollars, nothing else.

Don’t get me wrong, the NBA cares about making money too, and yes, they took that DoD money as well. The difference is the NBA doesn’t appear to be making any effort to stamp out the players voices despite their anthem policy. Adam Silver seems to recognize that a mutual partnership with the players and coaches of the league is what’s best for the league long term. He understands that the players aren’t robots, they’re human beings who are affected by the strife in this country. When numerous players started wearing “I can’t breathe” shirts in response to the death of Eric Garner, a violation of NBA uniform policy, Silver stated “I respect Derrick Rose and all of our players for voicing their personal views on important issues, but my preference would be for players to abide by our on-court attire rules.” That was it. No one was fined, no one was suspended, no one was black balled. As Steve Kerr noted last night, Silver doesn’t silence the players voices (and neither will the NFL despite their efforts), he empowers them.

That’s why, as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar so eloquently put it, the NBA is the league of America’s future, not the NFL. They’ve evolved past a David Stern era that was very similar to the NFL to a culture that encourages and promotes player expression, including on issues of social awareness. Any dynamic between management and a union, whether it be NBA players, NFL players, electricians, writers et al is best served by compromise and inclusiveness. That’s in fact the whole point of a union. With its unilateral decision on an anthem policy, the NFL spit in the face of its players union, thank goodness the NBA is not that shortsighted.