Hold the Ladder

There’s been another racially-motivated shooting in the good old USA. Gun violence is nothing new for our American neighbours, many of whom still spout “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition” as some sort of macho mantra. This time an angry young white man, “having a bad day” according to police, shot up a couple massage parlours; killing and wounding many of the mostly Asian staff. His lawyers are claiming ‘sex addiction’ but to those in the visible minority community the cause is obvious: racism.

Given the violence last year, when police shot several unarmed citizens—mostly African-American, by pure coincidence—while repeatedly letting heavily-armed white citizens walk free, including a teen too young to legally own a gun who shot and killed protestors, people are justifiably sensitive to colour right now.

For those who thought this type of racial profiling ended with George Floyd being choked to death by police or Jacob Blake taking seven bullets in the back (only to awake paralyzed in hospital shackled by his now-useless legs) know that hate never ends. Not in America, not anywhere. Even a new, non-racist, president can’t turn back centuries of prejudice. 

Right-minded people everywhere found themselves horrified by last summer’s entirely preventable tragedy in Kenosha, Wisconsin. And those same people are outraged by the latest violence in Atlanta, Georgia.

It’s not enough to feel these tragedies or even to condemn them. Words help, sure, but actions are what’s needed and, last year at least, we saw people take action…including those in the NBA. 

The players of the National Basketball League, a predominantly Black sport, acted in an unexpected and controversial way: They refused to play. Three days of games were cancelled while the NBA tried to reconcile itself to the fact, as one famous African-American coach lamented, “The country we love doesn’t love us back.” 

July 30, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, USA; Members of the New Orleans Pelicans and Utah Jazz kneel together around the Black Lives Matter logo on the court during the national anthem before the start of an NBA basketball game. Mandatory Credit: Ashley Landis/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

For this stand the players were applauded by the Left and mocked by the Right. Jared Kushner, son-in-law to the former (and unlamented) president, belittled the NBA Players Association decision by saying, “They’re fortunate they can afford to take a night off.” And, as asinine and deliberately divisive as his comment was—especially coming from the poster-boy for nepotism—Jarod is right. NBA players are fortunate. They have achieved what many can only dream—the phenomenal wealth and influence of professional sport.

Reaching the pinnacle in any field is difficult. It takes talent and effort and, in most cases, more than a little luck to climb to the top. Once there you’re presented with two options: The first, favoured by Kushner and his neo-con ilk, is to pull the ladder up behind. “I’ve got mine,” these selfish people say. “To heck with the rest of you!” This dog-eat-dog attitude assumes success is a zero-sum game, that personal achievement and individual wealth only comes at the expense of others, and that so-called ‘social climbing’ requires dragging those above you down. The second option, the one employed by the majority of NBA players, is to move back down the ladder and hold it steady for the next person. “A rising tide”, as the saying goes, “floats all boats.” Today’s celebrity-athletes have the power to help others make the climb and reach the much-sought mountaintop…or at least the next peak.

Money means power. Fame provides a platform. It behooves sports professionals to use theirs for the public good. Will each and every one of them get it right? Of course not. But doing nothing, saying nothing is not an option. People are dying. Some at the hands of ill-trained police, others through some sort of demented vigilante justice, and more because of ignorance, division, and hate. Last summer angry mobs formed in American streets, the once-mighty republic bled freely, haemorrhaging moral authority, and all the nation’s then-president could do was tweet!

It is a sad state of affairs when there is more leadership coming out of professional sport than the entirety of the Republican National Committee. 

Crowds cried out for justice then and the country, under the previous administration, refused to meet the moment. In fact, under Trump the nation moved backwards; prodded for four consecutive years by the twin spurs of ignorance and fear. Criticizing the efforts of any group—especially a predominantly Black one—willing to fill the moral void just showed how out of touch Trump was with the diversity of modern-day America. It’s no wonder he lost the election. 

People of colour demand equality. Women demand equality. The LGBTQ+ community demands equality. Seniors demand equality. The disabled demand equality. And the former president still thinks his job is to insult them, demean their struggles, and use these minorities legitimate concerns as red-meat for his ever-shrinking base.

Despite what The Donald would have you believe a better life is possible for us all. It doesn’t require superhuman athletic prowess, a nationwide bully pulpit, or millions of dollars. Just the willingness to stand up for what is right, to fight for the things in which you believe, and to never, ever stay quiet when facing injustice. Remember the sage distinction made by the late Civil Rights activist John Lewis: there is “trouble” and there is “good trouble”. The first is a crime. The second is a crime that leads to society’s betterment. The NBA and its players haven’t started making trouble yet. Let’s hope that when they do its good trouble and they hold the ladder for the rest of us.

Posted on: March 21, 2021, by :