There is an eye-opening subheading to Carmelo Anthony’s Guardian piece published on Wednesday that calls for athletes to become more socially active after the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and the shooting deaths of police officers in Dallas during a “Black Lives Matter” protest:
“Hashtags won’t solve the endless cycle of violence that’s engulfed America. That’s why I’m calling on my fellow athletes to stand up and do more.”
Conversely, this is how Carmelo Anthony ended his similar call to action on his Instagram account earlier this week:
The hypocrisy seemed obvious on the surface, but less so after Anthony joined Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James for a spontaneous moment of activism before Wednesday night’s ESPYs began. But that was just one moment where Anthony has publicly decided to speak out about the roiling racial tension in America today.
It’s tantamount to false posturing, until you dig a little deeper. So I did.
The gulf between United States citizens appears to be growing, and Anthony as well as LeBron James have used their massive social media presence to bring attention to that widening chasm. But the hashtag ending to Anthony’s venerated Instagram post struck me as off, and I was encouraged by coworkers to unravel all the various strands of thought it has produced since he posted it, despite my own reservations about doing so
That reluctance to delve further stems from how tough these matters are to talk about, and how they’re even harder to type out. It’s almost better as a back and forth in person, but that’s what comes with this occupation. Before we go on, part of my hesitance originates from a decided lack of empathy on the part of many today, especially online. The rush to judgment from so many — with overt recriminations and public shaming of the seemingly offensive parties before anything is really known — continues to become more of the norm. But I think, with the help of those coworkers who wanted me to draw this out a bit, we might all learn a thing or two about professional athletes and what their role might be in an American society that still places a premium on avoiding difficult questions and issues. Tricky matters like race and violence and the police are normally avoided, and that’s because they’re the powder-keg topics for America in the summer of 2016. Republicans buy sneakers, too, as Michael Jordan so infamously uttered, but that protective buffer for the brand is slowly falling away.
First, let’s look at Anthony’s aforementioned Instagram post, and then we’ll talk about the hashtag at the end that various other publications — whether deliberately, or not — didn’t include when they quoted it in their curation of his caption.
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First off let me start off by saying " All Praise Due To The Most High." Secondly, I'm all about rallying, protesting, fighting for OUR people. Look I'll even lead the charge, By Any Means Necessary. We have to be smart about what we are doing though. We need to steer our anger in the right direction. The system is Broken. Point blank period. It has been this way forever. Martin Luther King marched. Malcolm X rebelled. Muhammad Ali literally fought for US. Our anger should be towards the system. If the system doesn't change we will continue to turn on the TVs and see the same thing. We have to put the pressure on the people in charge in order to get this thing we call JUSTICE right. A march doesn't work. We tried that. I've tried that. A couple social media post/tweet doesn't work. We've all tried that. That didn't work. Shooting 11 cops and killing 5 WILL NOT work. While I don't have a solution, and I'm pretty sure a lot of people don't have a solution, we need to come together more than anything at this time. We need each other. These politicians have to step up and fight for change. I'm calling for all my fellow ATHLETES to step up and take charge. Go to your local officials, leaders, congressman, assemblymen/assemblywoman and demand change. There's NO more sitting back and being afraid of tackling and addressing political issues anymore. Those days are long gone. We have to step up and take charge. We can't worry about what endorsements we gonna lose or whose going to look at us crazy. I need your voices to be heard. We can demand change. We just have to be willing to. THE TIME IS NOW. IM all in. Take Charge. Take Action. DEMAND CHANGE. Peace7 #StayMe7o
The hashtag was #StayMe7o, and it’s the most ubiquitous hashtag in Anthony’s Instagram oeuvre. But let’s put that aside for a second to talk about the message before the hashtag, and how he gave it even more context and nuance —- with, probably, the help of a ghostwriter —- in the piece for the Guardian.
You should go re-read Anthony’s Instagram post and then the whole Guardian article because they’re important. Then listen to what he and his fellow NBA stars said on stage at the ESPYs Wednesday night. I’m going to attempt to summarize what he’s saying, anyway, for the purposes of context and perspective. Carmelo wants his fellow athletes to get off the bench and speak up about what’s happening in the world today. He doesn’t want the fear of corporate backlash to prevent this sort of social activism. He also wants other athletes to know it’s not something he’s foisting on them, but that it should come organically; they should want to do it, rather than doing it out of some obligation as a public figure. I agree. Most anyone would. But that’s harder in practice, especially for Anthony.
In the Guardian piece, Carmelo alludes to possibly doing something to show America’s true unity in Rio next month when the USA Men’s Basketball team will attempt to win their third-consecutive gold during the Olympics. This would be great, and would go a long way to helping America mourn all the lives lost because of bigotry big and small. But, again, there’s that #StayMe7o hashtag we can’t seem to shake out of this discussion.
It would be easy to take a jaded view of Anthony’s seemingly newfound social activism, especially when talking about police and violence. Remember, this is a player who made waves early in his NBA career for showing up in a locally made “Stop Snitchin’” video warning denizens not to talk to the police in the Baltimore projects where Melo grew up.
Now, he’s telling his fellow athletes to take a more conscientious approach to the world around them and to use their celebrity to speak up about any injustices they see? Running concurrently with all of this is Melo’s support for both the “Black Lives Matter” movement after the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and so many more, but also the Dallas police officers who were shot down during a “Black Lives Matter” protest. Add that all up, and you’ve got the one sin the internet almost never fails to mention, hypocrisy, which makes most of us wanna roll our eyes at Anthony as we tell him “Puh-lease.” We agree with the message, but we don’t like the guy spouting it.
That’s because none of what he’s saying is wrong, some people just won’t be able to disentangle it from the person speaking. Except, the #StayMe7o hashtag is important for different reasons other than my own knee-jerk reaction upon first seeing it. After reading such a powerful missive about social activism for professional athletes, I just thought, Damn, couldn’t you leave that hashtag off such a consequential post? He’s left it off Instagram posts in the past, so why include it here?
But the why doesn’t really matter.
Here’s the moment in this piece where I might lose you, so stay with me as best you can. Anthony’s ability to #brand himself — as hard as that might be for those preening people who detest #hottakes and would rather stay unread and unheard over “selling out,” or whatever pejorative they might attach to branding one’s self — is a good thing. It should actually be applauded, so that’s what I’m going to do. But I’m also not going to pretend it wasn’t included, which is what seemingly every outlet that mentioned it did.
It’s a refrain I’ve repeated many times in the past, but NBA superstars don’t make enough money. Sorry, but we live in America and — for now, at least — we live in a capitalist society. It’s that open market system, on a global level (please save your Vivek Ranadive #WellActually’s in the comments) that led every NBA owner to their billions, which was their means to procure an NBA team in the first place. Michael Jordan, famously, is the only black majority owner in the NBA today, and he’s also the only former player with a majority stake in a team, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars a lot of NBA players pull in on and off the court.
I hate to lay this out without a bunch of caveats, but a lot of the institutions that keep African-American men and women stuck in an inexorable cycle of poverty emerge from the fact that too few are becoming truly wealthy; that is to say, possessing enough affluence to wield real, life-changing power. Michael Jordan has it, and I hope LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and a host of other NBA stars join him at some point. But I know they probably won’t. The rules put in place by the Association of NBA owners makes it really hard to do so.
Michael Jordan has the type of money where he can afford to buy an NBA team, or better yet, a media company. It’s the type of power that gives billionaires tentacles into every substrata of American life, whether it’s lobbying congress, or supporting a candidate, or a long-term trade agreement with a foreign power; it’s about control, and money offers control because everyone wants some of it. Prosperity on that level among more minorities can help equalize the disparity in resources we still have in America. We don’t live in a post-racial America, sorry to tell you, and large part of that comes from the disportionate role African-Americans figure in the three comma club.
If NBA superstars were paid according to their value on the NBA market, this would probably change; more of them would have a chance at that MJ wealth. But, because NBA owners continue to believe in NBA maximums on player contracts (a not-so-subtle way of protecting themselves from their own general manager’s bad decision-making when awarding said contracts), Melo should #brand the crap out of whatever the hell he wants.
To NBA players, I always say: GET PAID. Get whatever you can. That’s the real American Dream, and until that foundational element of Americanism changes, I want NBA superstars to wrench as much money out of the paying public as possible. They deserve it, at least according to Horatio Alger, William F. Buckley and the Republican party before it was hijacked by a bloated tomato with a toddler’s hands.
The hashtag #StayMe7o wasn’t a literal guidepost for a fractured American public, either. It was #branding, pure and simple. Anthony is good at it, despite how tacky it might seem to basketbloggers and Bernie Bros. Carmelo knows how to sell himself really well, but — because of this — he’s also well aware of what his recent bit of activism might cost him in the board rooms on Wall Street. Probably more so than most NBA players who aren’t as smart about their off-court endeavors. He knows, and his people probably know, that he cost himself some sponsorship money with his recent pronouncement on such a hot-button issue, and if the USA Basketball team does something even more polarizing, he might cost himself even more marketing opportunities.
But Anthony doesn’t seem to care about that as much anymore, even if I still want him to make as much money as he possibly can. That totally flips my initial thoughts on the #StayMe7o hashtag. Carmelo Anthony should stay as Me7o as he wants, he’s earned it.