The New York Times co-hosted a “Cities for Tomorrow” conference in New Orleans that promised a wide-ranging discussion including “cultural and sports figures.” One result was a Thursday story about the National Basketball Association congratulating itself on its “woke” politics and the Times cheering them on, while mocking the NFL’s treatment of Colin Kaepernick, in “N.B.A. Voices -- A league that lets players speak out.”
But the paper’s embrace of the NBA is pretty hypocritical, given its part treatment of athletes who make conservative gestures.
Reporter Talya Minsberg celebrated the left-wing concept of “wokeness” at length.
The N.B.A. has earned a term that its commissioner had not heard.
“How does it feel to be the wokest professional sports league?” asked Marc Lacey, the national editor at The New York Times.
“I didn’t know we were given that designation,” Adam Silver, the N.B.A. commissioner, said, laughing. “But I understand the sentiment and we’re proud of that.”
Instead of asking players to fit a certain mold -- to act a certain way, talk a certain way, wear their hair a certain way -- the league has embraced players and their outspokenness, especially on local levels.
It’s left unmentioned, but it certainly doesn’t hurt the league’s media reputation that that “outspokenness” only goes in one direction.
In 2012, LeBron James and the Miami Heat tweeted a photo of the team in black hoodies a month after Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida.
In December 2014, players across the league wore shirts that read, “I Can’t Breathe” during warm-ups, protesting a grand jury’s decision not to indict a New York police officer whose chokehold led to the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man. In New York, the Brooklyn Nets and the Cleveland Cavaliers wore the shirts while competing at the Barclays Center.
The Golden State Warriors, which boasts of their hometown, Oakland, Calif., by wearing gear that says “The City” and “The Town,” skipped a White House visit after they won the 2017 N.B.A. championship, and instead took students in Washington to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture.
While it's nice to see the paper again considers “free speech” an unadulterated good, and not a right-wing racist plot, the Times embrace of (unacknowledged) liberal stands isn’t just slanted, its celebration of the "woke" NBA comes off hypocritical, given the paper’s history of being repelled by the rare conservative personality or gesture by an athlete.
The paper's former sports columnist, Selena Roberts lambasted tennis star Jennifer Capriati in March 2003 for requesting a particular song be played during her pre-match warm-up in support of the troops in Iraq (the war had just begun). The song included the chorus "Bombs over Baghdad." Capriati's explanation: "I wanted to support the troops." Roberts sniffed: “Politics aside, her logic was questionable. How uplifting is a song illuminated by such abrasive lyrics? But Capriati made a wish, and it was granted. Star power has its privileges on the women's tour, but it is often misspent on petty demands instead of tennis reform.”
Last year the paper loved the WNBA’s embrace of abortion mill Planned Parenthood, but the year before was bugged by flags and patriotism displayed at NFL games. And sports/television writer Richard Sandomir didn’t appreciate NBC’s’ “extreme focus on American exceptionalism” during its 2016 Olympics coverage.