Good Followership

As the Washington Post’s Jason Reid points out, it took a while for NBA players finally to protest Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Though many among them were aware of his racist views for some time, they did nothing when, for example, in a 2002 housing discrimination case, Sterling said that African Americans “smell and aren’t clean.”

This time though the players chose not to avoid the issue. For a constellation of reasons – including the scandalous publicity surrounding these latest of Sterling’s comments; the fact they were directed at one of their own, Magic Johnson; and that it’s 2014 and not, say, 2002 (times do change, American attitudes do evolve) – this time the players took action. This time they made clear in no uncertain terms that if the NBA under Commissioner Adam Silver did not respond strongly and swiftly to punish Sterling for his transgression, they would act accordingly. They would refuse to play ball.

Their various gestures – players for the Heat, Bobcats, Spurs and Mavericks all took part in the public protest – were in evidence for everyone to see. They were made on the court, they involved various articles of clothing, and they signaled solidarity in a way that threatened an imminent league-wide boycott in the event the NBA, Silver in particular, dared to disappoint.

NBA players were not the only ones to protest Sterling’s remarks. A series of sponsors also took their leave in the wake of the negative publicity, including State Farm, Virgin America, and Kia Motors. Moreover the widely-praised Silver does deserve credit for his speedy, sturdy response. But the players were key here. They framed the shot and they insisted on an immediate response. Show me the money? They are the money. They hold the keys to the kingdom – which is why great athletes across America, including undergraduates, increasingly are demanding what they believe they are owed.

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