Adam Silver warns fans hate speech won’t be tolerated: ‘We’re going to catch you’
When will other leagues and teams in all of sports make similar efforts?
When an obnoxious fan in Utah directed what were described as racist comments at Russell Westbrook during a game in March, the Oklahoma City Thunder guard was presented with a couple of options:
Take the path of civility.
Or take it to the streets.
Westbrook resisted the second option, only threatening to work dude over.
But not everyone will possess the same temperament if confronted with a similar situation. Instead of a clapback, there will be others more apt to deliver a smackdown.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver wants to avoid those situations at all costs.
While the league stayed out of the ugly incident in Utah, Silver promised during a news conference before Game 1 of the 2019 Finals that the NBA would be swift to clamp down on fans who prove to be habitual line-steppers.
“These are incredibly unfortunate incidents,” Silver said when asked by The Undefeated about the Utah incident. “I also want to send a clear message to those small, tiny minority of fans who might engage in that sort of conduct that it absolutely won’t be tolerated.
“We’re going to catch you, because in every one of our arenas there are numerous high-definition cameras pointed at stands, so we’re going to see it. There’s also 18,000 fellow spectators who are holding high-definition cameras in their hands. So there aren’t many incidents now, when a player points something out and says somebody did something, where we’re not going to be able to get tape and see exactly what happened and ban that fan from the arena, if necessary.”
Give credit to the Utah Jazz: After a thorough investigation of the incident, the team banned for life the fan who directed his hate toward Westbrook. The punishment was so severe that Silver felt it wasn’t necessary for the league to step in.
“Gail Miller, as the principal owner, said, ‘This does not represent our community,’ ” Silver said Thursday. “I think that was much more powerful than me issuing a statement from all the way across the country in New York.”
But also give credit to Silver for not tolerating hate speech. Banning a fan for life under those circumstances is the right move.
So why is it difficult for other teams and league officials to follow the NBA’s lead?
When a black coach and his players were on the receiving end of racial slurs during multiple high school basketball games played in Utah last season — called “blackie” and the N-word, among other slurs — the principal, athletic director and police officers present at the opposing school allowed the offending fan to remain at the game.
When Divyne Apollon II, a 13-year-old hockey player in Washington, D.C., was called the N-word and told to play basketball by opponents, game officials and the opposing coach did nothing.
And the problem is so bad, and often ignored, in the world of soccer that a team consisting of African immigrants who play in a league in Spain replaced their names on their jerseys in a recent game with the racist slurs that have been directed at them.
There’s no problem with a fan harassing opposing players, even though Drake has recently caught some heat for his courtside antics at games in Toronto. But fans hurling racial slurs at players have no place in the game. A ban for such behavior should be mandatory in every league, from the NBA and NFL to the lowest levels of youth sports.
Violators are not hard to find these days, and Silver said the NBA will be vigilant in tracking down offenders. The NBA has directed security personnel and ushers working for teams to be more aware of unacceptable behavior from fans, and some teams have even put up text hotlines so people can report incidents.
“There’s more we can do,” Silver said, “but we’re focused on it.”
What happened in Utah will happen again. People are increasingly feeling emboldened to express their racist thoughts.
Credit the NBA for doing the right thing.
It’s time more leagues and teams on all levels follow suit.