Over the weekend, a number of NBA players participated in video conference calls to discuss the league’s restart plan and, most importantly, voice the concerns and questions they have about the feasibility of the plan and whether it’s the right thing for players to do.
One concern is health, particularly with a lack of firm details on exactly how shut-off players will be from the outside world in the bubble (making matters more difficult is there are players that want more freedom than the league’s plan allows and some that don’t think it’s restrictive enough). How the league will keep rising COVID-19 cases in the Orange County, Florida area from infiltrating the league’s bubble in Disney is of chief concern of many, particularly given there being no indication Disney employees would likewise be confined to the bubble, thus making it more of a wiffle ball with holes in it.
Beyond the health questions, there are some like Kyrie Irving and Avery Bradley that worry restarting the season will distract from the Black Lives Matter movement that has garnered more support in the last month than it ever has previously, with global protests that have been taking place for weeks on end against police brutality and systemic racism following the recent killings of a number of Black Americans by police like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, David McAtee, and more.
The discussions internally within the players union are debating whether getting back to basketball would hurt the cause, by offering an escape, or enhance it, by giving players a national platform to continue pushing for equality and racial justice. The result of all of this has been the establishment of a new players coalition, led by Irving and Bradley, that includes NBA and WNBA players, as well as some from the world of entertainment, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Malika Andrews.
The coalition issued a statement to ESPN, which included a call for the league to be more transparent about how it plans to protect players health in the restart as well as backing their efforts in activism.
“We are combating the issues that matter most: We will not accept the racial injustices that continue to be ignored in our communities. We will not be kept in the dark when it comes to our health and well-being. And we will not ignore the financial motivations/expectations that have prevented us historically from making sound decisions.
“This is not about individual players, athletes or entertainers. This is about our group of strong men and women uniting for change. We have our respective fields, however, we will not just shut up and play to distract us from what this whole system has been about: Use and Abuse.
“We are all fathers, daughters leaders and so much more. So what is our BIG picture? We are in this for UNITY and CHANGE!”
How large the coalition is and who exactly is in it beyond Irving and Bradley is unknown, but it’s also the job of Irving as an NBPA VP to use his platform to help those that might not be as comfortable with their place in the league to voice their concerns. That’s the point of the coalition and while it’s not a majority of players its important that those that do have worries have support within the union to be able to make those known.
The NBPA and NBA have been adamant that they will be able to assuage the concerns of players and make sure the restart is handled as best as possible, with the understanding that positive tests are inevitable and it’s impossible to assure complete safety of players. There are also plenty of financial reasons for players to want to return, and some also believe getting back on the court is the best way for them to reach a wider audience and keep the BLM movement in the forefront of people’s minds. The WNBA addressed the activism piece of the puzzle on Monday with its restart plans, pledging to do its part in pushing for social justice even as games restart.
The concerns of Irving and others are more than valid, and making them known is important, if for no other reason than pushing the NBA to do the right thing and give players a wide berth when it comes to what they can do to protest police brutality and systemic racism when the restart happens.