After wearing a controversial face mask earlier this week that was captured by Rockets’ social media, All-NBA guard James Harden explained why he wore the mask in a conference call with media.
“It was just something that covered my whole beard. I thought it looked cool,” Harden said. “That was it.”
James Harden: "It was just something that covered my whole beard. I thought it looked cool. That was it." Harden said he's in process of determining how he will voice his support for the Black Lives Matter while in NBA bubble, including whether he will have a message on jersey.
— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) July 17, 2020
Harden added that he was not familiar with the symbolism of the art on the mask, which included a “Thin Blue Line” flag that has been associated with white supremacy and opposition to the movement for Black lives. The mask also featured a likeness of the Punisher, another symbol that has been used by “Blue Lives Matter” counter-protestors.
This NBA season is highly focused on promoting the Black Lives Matter movement and furthering the efforts of the league and its players around political engagement and anti-white supremacy activism. Harden made it clear the mask was not intended to diverge from that purpose.
“It wasn’t to make a political statement,” Harden said.
As conversations regarding history and racial reconciliation have overtaken the national discourse, many NBA players and other prominent athletes had to backtrack their messaging. Harden clearly didn’t want his position to be left to a social media post, and distanced himself from the political motivations behind others who have used similar symbolism to do harm.