The NBA is back, but players will continue their protest against the shooting of Jacob Blake, police violence, and systemic racism. Their stand comes during the Republican convention and rising fascism. Gerald Horne joins Paul Jay on theAnalysis.news podcast.
Hi, I’m Paul Jay and this is theAnalysis.news podcast.
The NBA players and owners have announced that the season will continue after some teams went on strike on Wednesday and all the players debated ending the season, as a protest against police violence against black men and women.
The Milwaukee Bucks refused to come onto the floor of their playoff game on Wednesday in protest against the shooting of Jacob Blake in their home state of Wisconsin. They called on the state assembly to pass legislation that would force accountability for police violence, including the arrest of the police officer who fired seven bullets into the back of Blake.
The boycott pressured the NBA to cancel games scheduled for later that day. Many teams in other sports followed, with games canceled in the WNBA, and professional baseball and soccer. In two NBA player’s meetings, a fierce debate unfolded on whether to boycott the entire playoffs or play and create other forms of protest. It’s been reported that the Lebron James and the LA Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers voted to end the season on Wednesday night. In the end, the players voted to continue the playoffs.
The players, who are playing in a Covid protected bubble in Orlando, Florida, say they are fed up with the police murdering people who came from communities where many of the players grew up. It is frustration and outrage with a system that treats poor blacks as less than human.
At the core of this systemic racism is the exploitation of cheap black labor. It’s the culture of a slave society that continues to reproduce itself to justify the extreme poverty in major American cities. The elites must dehumanize those that it exploits, and this applies to poor white workers as well. The system dehumanizes and degrades even more aggressively and violently, those that it super-exploits. There is a deep hatred and contempt for poor people, particularly of color, that blames the poor for the consequences of poverty.
Police culture reflects the mission that has been assigned to them since slavery. Protect the property of the rich and enforce laws that perpetuate poverty and a cheap pool of labor. In cities across America, part of that mission is to use force with impunity to contain the consequences of desperate people living in desperate conditions.
This hatred for poor black people does not extend with the same intensity to wealthy, successful black people. That is when the police know who they are dealing with. As I witnessed in Baltimore, cops love to have their pictures taken with people like Danny Glover. Black sports and entertainment figures are venerated and used as marketing tools for every manner of product.
The importance of the NBA protest is that athletes, who are not only playing in a bubble but, to a large extent, have been living in a bubble created by their wealth and success, are saying they will not play along with the violence and super-exploitation of their communities. It’s a clarion call to everyone that there is no going back to a normal of ignoring the deep racism and growing fascism that permeates American society.
I talked to historian Gerald Horne the night before the announcement by the NBA to continue the playoffs.
Gerald Horne is a historian who holds the John Jay and Rebecca Morris, chair of history and African-American studies at the University of Houston. He’s the author of many books, including The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism, The Roots of Slavery, White Supremacy and Capitalism in 17th Century North America and the Caribbean.
Thanks for joining us, Gerald.
Thank you for inviting me.
So, give us your take on the response of the NBA and these professional athletes to the shooting of Jacob Blake.
Pardon the expression, but it may be a game-changer. What I mean is, these athletes have a lot of social, and potentially political capital. LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team, the top player in the league, has about 47 million Twitter followers. These players have a very strong union. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the ownership team of the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team, and of course, those Milwaukee Bucks who are now leading this protest, the ownership team basically endorsed the protest.
They said that they didn’t know about it in advance, but they were happy and pleased that it was taking place. The Milwaukee Bucks are demanding that the state legislature in Madison address a passel of bills dealing with police terror and police accountability. And I think that we should not overlook the fact that these players, who are mostly of African descent, have a particular stake in the struggle. It’s not only because, disproportionately and overwhelmingly, it’s black men like themselves who are being shot in the streets, like Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
But if you will, notice that a number of those who fall victim to police terror happen to be sizable, large, and tall black men. Think of Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, whose murder, as you know, was captured on tape. He was a big hefty man. So was Michael Brown, the teenager in Ferguson, Missouri. So was George Floyd, the former tight end in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Tight end, that is to say, a football player.
And I think that we should recognize that tall black men seem to ignite a certain kind of fear and loathing amongst a certain element of the police force. In fact, if you go back and look at some of the words of these officers, for example, the officer who killed Michael Brown, it’s apparent that he was intimidated by Michael Brown’s size. Now, of course, he may have said that post facto in order to justify his murderous intent. But in any case, as a person who’s over six feet tall myself, that is to say, I’m above six feet tall and I’m darker skinned, I’ve had these sorts of encounters with the authorities myself. So I’m speaking not only objectively, but subjectively. Now, it’s also important that it’s not only basketball players, but apparently, it’s spread to Major League Soccer, it’s spread to Major League Baseball, it’s spread to the WNBA, the women’s basketball league. And keep in mind that in some ways the women’s basketball players have been in the vanguard. Note what’s been happening with the Atlanta Dream basketball team, women’s basketball team, which has been conducting this protest against one of their employers, senator Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed to that seat just months ago, and got involved in an insider trading scandal, and now has retaliated by denouncing Black Lives Matter, the players have responded by endorsing a Democrat who will be running against her, Reverend Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the pastor of Martin Luther King’s old church.
So this action by the athletes is quite remarkable. And we should also recognize that there’s nothing new about it. Those of us who are familiar with history are familiar with the anti-war stance of the boxer Muhammad Ali. We’re familiar with the fact that Muhammad Ali got into hot water for refusing to be conscripted to go fight in Vietnam, and that other professional athletes stood by his side, including Bill Russell, the Boston Celtics center, Jim Brown, the running back for the Cleveland Browns, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then a basketball player at the University of California, Los Angeles.
And then even before Muhammad Ali, I think about Joe Louis, the Brown Bomber, the heavyweight champion before him, who endorsed the political left when it was dangerous to do so. Speaking of the 1940s, when he endorsed the political campaign of third-party challenger Henry Wallace, who was challenging Harry S. Truman in the presidential election of 1948. And even before that, Jack Johnson, the heavyweight boxing champion, in the first decade or so of the 20th century, from Galveston, Texas, by the way, who prompted the U.S. authorities to try to gin up hopes of finding a so-called “great white hope” to defeat him and put him in his place?
And, of course, James Earl Jones was an actor portraying Jack Johnson in a movie by that name, “Great White Hope”. Jack Johnson eventually was chased into exile in revolutionary Mexico, then wound up in pre-revolutionary Russia. He said Barcelona was his favorite city. Eventually, he lived in Barcelona, where he started a newspaper focusing on sports and socialism. So these actors are not necessarily doing an act of protest that’s wholly unique. Instead, they’re continuing a grand historical tradition.
So with this enormous social media presence and mainstream media presence of all types now, because every media organization, or well, certainly in North America, and many places around the world are covering this story, what should these NBA players expect to accomplish?
There’s a lot of conversation. I actually do follow the NBA because I’m a Raptors fan, and the Raptors may have helped start all of this, because Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell a couple of days ago were publicly talking about organizing a boycott of the Thursday night NBA game against the Boston Celtics, and apparently had a meeting scheduled tonight with the Celtics teams. The two teams were going to meet to discuss whether they’re going to call off their game. But before that happened, the afternoon game with Milwaukee was about to take place, and Milwaukee boycotted.
But there’s a lot of conversation about what do the players do next?
Some players are saying, well, if we just go back to regular basketball again, we’re saying it’s kind of all normalized. And then others are saying, well, if we call off the season, we lose our platform. What are your thoughts?
Well, I’m not sure. I noticed that LeBron James made a distinction. He said this is a boycott, not a postponement, which tends to point in the direction of some sort of cessation of the season. But as you noted, the downside there is they may lose their platform. At the same time, I don’t think we should ignore the fact that this is taking place in the midst of the Republican National Convention unfolding. This Republican National Convention, the party of the 45th US president, the Oaf in the Oval Office, Agent Orange himself, Donald J. Trump, has been figuratively and literally a horror show. Recall that his son, Donald J. Trump Jr., compared Joseph Biden, the Democratic nominee, to a monster.
His word, not mine, Donald J. Trump Jr.’s word. They’re obviously trying to inject fear into the hearts of their 63 million strong base. Recall that the star of the RNC has been the McCloskey couple from St. Louis, who most infamously waved weapons at Black Lives Matter protesters who were marching in front of their home in St. Louis, Missouri. This was quite intimidating, but it was walking in the footsteps of their mentor, Mr. Trump, whose rhetoric is suffused with violence.
Go back and look at some of the clips from his 2016 campaign in particular. So, I think that the players have taken note and notice of this deteriorating political atmosphere in the United States of America. I imagine that many have taken note of the fact that Mr. Trump has opened his embrace to QAnon, a wildly bizarre political tendency, though I’m afraid to say we’ll be sending some of its members to Congress in a few months. And that posits this harebrained idea that Donald J. Trump is fighting a single-handed war against the so-called deep state that implicates Hollywood, universities, and the mainstream media, who supposedly are involved in everything from cannibalism to pedophilia.
Objectively speaking, it seems to me that this bizarre tendency is a reflection of the ideological decomposition of the US right-wing. They also dabble in the occult, not unlike their mentors of the fascist movement of the first decades of the 20th century. And this does not bode well, particularly for a population, speaking of black Americans. Many of us have very unfortunate and tragic memories of slavery, many of us lived through US apartheid. And so, we take quite seriously the fact that Mr. Trump has embraced QAnon, and has spoken of Klansmen and Nazis as being fine people as he did in August 2017, with regard to the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia. And so I salute these professional athletes. Their protest is very timely, and hopefully, it will bear fruit.
I personally don’t think they should cancel the season.
They should, I think, do a couple of things. At one of the hockey games at the very beginning of the playoffs, one of the hockey players, he’s actually of Filipino origin, made an anti-racist speech, with all the players on the ice listening and then banging their hockey sticks in support. The players could insist, with this massive audience, that will be bigger with the television audience because of this, they should have their say night after night, game after game. They should begin not with national anthems, but with anti-racist speeches.
And then the other thing I was thinking maybe they could do is start a massive fund, you know, 200-300 million dollars that the players in the league chip in to help fund civil lawsuits against police unions that protect the murderous cops, and against the cops themselves. Help fund the families to launch these kinds of suits.
Cops obviously still feel impunity with what they get away with. I don’t know what you think of those ideas, or perhaps if you have other ideas, what the players could be doing?
Well, first of all, as I’m sure you know, at the bubble in Florida where they’re playing, the players routinely kneel for the anthems, they wear Black Lives Matter t-shirts. On the back of their jerseys now, they oftentimes have political slogans such as Black Lives Matter or Vote or whatever.
I’m sure you’re probably familiar with the fact that once again, LeBron James has organized this group called “More Than a Vote” that is organizing to have poll-watchers, and that’s organizing young black men in particular to be poll-watchers. And it’s very well-funded from diverse sources. And as noted, the Bucks have pressed the state legislature in Madison to take up a passel of bills concerning police accountability and police terror. Now, I think also that simultaneously there is an eruption of protests amongst college football players, who may be the most exploited athletes of all since they don’t get paid, and yet, their activity on the gridiron generates billions of dollars in revenue that’s appropriated oftentimes by well-paid coaches, such as the coach of Clemson University in South Carolina. His football salary is over nine million dollars a year. The coach at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, his salary is over seven dollars million a year. And they have been protesting with regard to COVID and corona protocols. Already, you’ve had major football conferences like those on the West Coast and those in the Midwest, the PAC 12 and the Big Ten so-called, that have canceled their season.
Those in Dixie and the US South have yet to do so, but they may be pressured to do so. And then there’s professional football where you have a similar protest with regard to whether or not they should kneel for the anthem. So keep in mind that professional football is a bit more backward relative to professional basketball. Their union is weaker, and also it seems that ownership is more reactionary, which in some ways dovetails with the fact that professional football is a quite violent sport. In some ways, it summarizes and encapsulates the violence of US bellicosity, and belligerence, and violence. And in any case, there are ongoing protests with regard to these football players, and what they’re going to do. And, of course, the retired football players as well have been protesting because, as you know, there have been these major lawsuits about these players being damaged physically from the sport. They brought a massive lawsuit. Many of these injuries deal with concussions.
It turns out that the black players, and keep in mind that, like in professional basketball, black Americans are about 75 percent of the athletes, but yet somehow, concerning the legal settlements coming from the National Football League, the black players somehow, are taking home less money from the settlement than non-black players. And so they’re protesting about that. So I think it’s fair to say that sports in the United States right now is on fire. And I would not separate that from the fact that the players that we’re talking about, be it college football, professional football, professional basketball, are disproportionately black Americans, who have families who are pressing them, and who also have direct experience with regard to being harassed by the police authorities and by the state in general.
And also significant, the number of non-black players, white players in the NBA and coaches, and managers who are totally in support of the resistance, and very outspoken about it.
Nick Nurse, I know these Canadian references because I follow the Raptors, the coach of the Raptors gave a very strong statement, but he’s not the only one. It’s right across the league. And as you mentioned earlier, ownership, more or less across the league, has been very supportive. Now I don’t think they had a heck of a lot of choices, because the vast majority of the players would not have hesitated to fight against the ownership if the ownership got in their way.
But it does say something about the broadening of the front against the police violence and so on. But let me broaden the conversation out a little bit, seeing as the RNC convention is going on.
It seems to me that Trump, in terms of what he’s saying, and the kinds of people they’re giving a platform to, you know, really far-right crazy people that even most center-right Republicans would find repugnant, are getting a place in the sun at this convention.
Do you think that that Trump has either kind of given up on winning this election, and is really putting into place the foundation for the building of a much more overt fascist movement post-election, that that he’ll try to win, but he will win in the course of building this fascist movement overtly, like there’s no attempt on his part to moderate his speech, to play to the center.
And it’s not like the people he’s inflaming aren’t already inflamed.
But the strategy seems to be to consolidate the most racist fascist forces as a preparation for what comes next.
Well, keep in mind that because of their archaic, antiquated Electoral College, Mr. Trump can lose the popular vote, as he did by three million votes in 2016. He could lose it this time by double that six million, and still squeak out an Electoral College victory. Secondly, I think that we should not downplay the question of voter suppression. That drama has been playing out in the halls of Congress for the last few days with regard to this apparent diabolical plot to strangle the U.S. Postal Service at a time when the opposition party is requesting more mail ballots than the GOP, not least because Mr. Trump has been denigrating the entire question of mail ballots, suggesting that it opens the door for forgery of ballots by the Iranians and the Chinese, amongst others. And then there’s just the overall question of voter suppression. That is to say, there’s a good reason why basketballer LeBron James is trying to send poll-watchers to the polls in black communities.
Because already we know what has happened in the past, where there have been attempts to intimidate black voters going to the polls, or even sending them mail that suggests “don’t forget to vote on the second Tuesday in November,” when everybody knows you’re supposed to vote the first Tuesday in November. So there are a lot of dirty tricks taking place. And so I think that Mr. Trump and his 63 million strong base are banking on a victory by hook or by crook. By the latter most likely, by crook. And then as the economic situation deteriorates, because Mr. Trump will be incapable of satisfying his working-class and middle-class base, there will be intensified scapegoating of the immigrant population.
In fact, what you see right now is sort of the trifecta of racism and white supremacy as we approach November. There’s this anxiety in the Trump base about Black Lives Matter in the streets, from New York through Kenosha to Portland. There is anxiety about what’s happening on the border with regard to immigrants, and with all of the commercials that Trump ran in 2018 of these caravans supposedly that were heading towards the border, expect to see more of those. And then, the third element is the spectre of China, with former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia predicting that there could be a war between the United States and China before Election Day. And as we speak, you have military maneuvers taking place in Hawaii, the unsinkable aircraft carrier in the Pacific involving not only the United States, but their allies, particularly their Asian allies, particularly Japan. And China has protested about the fact that some maneuvers they were having in Chinese territory were buzzed by U.S. spy planes just within this past week. So there’s a reason why Trump Junior refers to Joseph Biden as Beijing Biden.
And there is a reason why, even today, Mr. Trump has sent out a tweet suggesting that China wants Biden to prevail and that if that does happen, the United States will collapse in a heap. And of course, that’s part of the theme of the RNC, the impending collapse of the United States, which is one of the reasons why the RNC, they don’t even have a political platform, and I mean that literally, they have not had meetings to develop a platform saying what they’re going to do in case they prevail in November 2020.
The only platform seems to be this personality cult in favor of the so-called great leader, the dear leader, Mr. Trump. And so there seem to be hard times ahead I’m afraid to say, no matter what happens with regard to this election. Which is one of the reasons why these athletes protest could not be more timely.
Thanks very much for joining us, Gerald.
And thank you for joining us on theAnalysis.news podcast.