written by W. Brenden Whitted
The NBA, along with its players, has done a great job of increasing the awareness of the importance of voting. There are multiple commercials featuring NBA players advocating for voting with a corresponding link to get registered, teams have agreed to turn several NBA arenas into polling places, and the NBA league offices even spent a day calling politicians during the NBA bubble boycott. But while voting is certainly a tool to help eradicate anti-Black policing, it should not be the only arrow in the quiver to kill the atrocity of discrimination in our criminal justice system. There will be a Presidential election in November, but state sanctioned violence disproportionately affecting Black people has been an issue since before Black people were considered five fifths of a person. Perhaps one candidate will be better for the movement of equality than another, but Mike Brown and the Ferguson uprising happened under President Obama. Considering how vocal many of the affluent NBA players have been about fixing police brutality, and how pointed an issue it is, they should take their newfound public political leanings and run with it—by forming a Super Political Action Committee (PAC).
Political Action Committees (PACs) are organizations that raise money to influence elections or legislation. Leadership PACs (colloquially referred to as Super PACs) hold two important distinctions to Connected and Non-connected PACs. First, Super PACs were formed by a judicial action (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) as opposed to a legislative one, like the other two. Second, Super PACs may receive unlimited contributions from individuals provided they don’t make contributions to candidate campaigns or party coffers. Even with that restriction, political ads are fair game, and can swing elections. And if the purpose of the NBA players’ movement is changing systemic racism it is necessary to change the system—that starts by changing the cogs in that system so that impactful legislative changes can be made.
It’s no secret that money talks in politics. Winning elections are often times about marketing, and flooding voters with information. Money is the best fuel to power the engine necessary to advertise the candidate and their policies. And while Presidential candidates’ stances on issues is widely known, other politicians’ stance on specific issues (like plans on addressing police brutality in Black communities) aren’t as well known. It’s a lot to expect the average citizen to know about where every level of government stands on such a life and death issue, even with the increased national discourse. By running ads in different communities, candidates can be distinguished, and their platform amplified for the work they pledge to do for the Black community.
The importance of money in politics is already known by those in the NBA, particularly the franchise owners. According to a report by The Ringer, over 80% of the political donations made by franchise owners have been to the Republican party, a party that has been unsupportive of the Black Lives Matter movement. Five NBA franchise owners (the Los Angeles Lakers’ Jim Buss, Orlando Magic’s Dan DeVos, New York Knicks’ James Dolan, Houston Rockets’ Tilman Fertitta and San Antonio Spurs’ Juliana Holt) have contributed directly to President Trump, who, despite the affiliation of some of his financial backers, ironically warned that mixing sports and politics would ruin the NBA. Eventually, despite the NBA’s reputation as a liberal bastion, there will have to be some hard choices, conversations, and perhaps consequences for the diametrically opposed viewpoints on the value of Black lives.
There is no more middle ground. Even the NBA’s “non-partisan” initiative to expand voter access has a decidedly political leaning. Voter suppression doesn’t live in a vacuum, it is not a naturally occurring phenomena. Quite simply, most of the voter suppression seen in America has been at the behest of the Republican party. Things like elimination of same day voting registration, more stringent voter ID laws, and, most recently, a reduction in ballot drop-off locations in Harris County are done (as President Trump said) because lower voting turnouts favor Republican candidates. With such an investment by one of the two major political parties to suppress the voters of people that they think will vote for their opposition, it’s essential to set up a political machine to combat it.
When the players decided to sit out games as a protest, part of what got them to return to playing was the promise from the NBA franchise owners to turn the playing arenas into polling stations. The move would’ve been important to increase the ability for those in cities to vote because of proximity and repute. Not even three months later some of those decisions have already been reversed. It is not enough to simply rely on the owners to do their part in protecting Black lives mattering. It’s up to the players, who bear a resemblance to those being overly policed and violently victimized by the civil justice system, to take the next step in protecting Black lives after simply voting. It’s time for the players to use their wealth, influence, and unprecedented unity to help eradicate a deadly issue plaguing the Black community and be the heroes off the court that they’re lauded for being on the hardwood.