Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV.
Two weeks ago, Brooklyn Nets basketball star Kyrie Irving shared a link to a movie that many people called antisemitic. He shared it without any context and did not comment on the movie or its content. The post was swiftly condemned by the NBA, the Nets, and the media after it got their attention. Some even went as far as calling him an idiot.
Irving was asked about why he was “promoting” the film in a post-game interview to which he rebuked his post as a promotion. He rightfully told the interviewer that the documentary was on a public platform (Amazon) and that anyone could go see it. I believe most people were looking for him to outright condemn the movie and apologize. When he didn’t do it immediately, the media machine scolded him even more.
After a week of allegedly ignoring Nets owner Joe Tsai’s push for him to apologize, the team suspended him for five games. Four hours later, he posted an apology directly naming the Jewish community. This was not good enough for the team, so they compiled a list of things he had to do in order to show that he learned his lesson, including “antisemitic training” and meeting with the ADL and Jewish leaders.
Frankly, I thought that the NBA and media’s response to Irving’s post were out of proportion, especially after he finally made the public apology on social media. The nail in the coffin for me was when the league placed a list of demands that Irving had to execute before he could return to the game. At that point, I knew they were trying to make an example out of him and that this was no longer about his initial sin.
The reaction and punishment are disproportionate to the crime in this case. No other player to my knowledge has been made to complete an arbitrary list of conditions or have their jobs held hostage after having shared misinformation or racist and/or antisemitic views.
Now, the tide is turning and some of the people who criticized him have double-backed when the list came out. In the sports entertainment world, Shannon Sharpe, co-host of Undisputed, criticized Irving’s actions and what he saw as a lack of an apology. “Where’s ‘I’m sorry?’ I thought all apologies was supposed to say, ‘I’m sorry,’” Sharpe said on the show. Now, Sharpe believes that Irving’s apology should be sufficient to get him back in the game. “It wasn’t enough that he apologized, now I believe they are trying to rob the man of his dignity,” Sharpe said in a later broadcast.
Lebron James, who initially said that he did not “respect” anyone “promoting or soliciting, or saying harmful things to any community that harms people,” in regards to Kyrie now believes the team is taking things too far.
Jay Williams, one of the only sports media pundits who had a fair initial response (in my opinion) has come out to be more empathetic about the situation. He offered a fair critique in an Instagram video explaining why Irving may have shared the documentary and said that he would not let people make Irving a villain.
Even Stephen A. Smith, who has been notoriously critical of Irving in the past, has come to his defense, saying that the NBA is attempting to emasculate him. “Now you’re going a step too far, okay? The man apologized. He’s been suspended, and that should be that. Now, you as an organization have to make [the decision], do you want him on your team? Do you keep him the rest of the year? Or you can elect to let him go while making him sit home, and you have to pay him unless you trade him. It’s that simple,” Smith said.
“But to sit up there and have this list of conditions that he has to do – I think what you’re trying to do is elevate the level of embarrassment that is being thrown in his direction, and dare I say emasculate him. Which is why Jaylen Brown has spoken up, which is why Black people are going to raise holy hell about that, and which is why I’m going to be one of those folks leading the chorus to raise holy hell about that.”
This is how I feel overall about the list of conditions that they proposed. If the point was for Irving to take accountability and learn his lesson, he has already done while missing out on games and money.
Now NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Tsai have come out and said that they met with Irving after this incident, and do not personally believe Irving is antisemitic. It remains unclear if the list of things to do before he can return has been fulfilled or not. My takeaway is that these conversations should have been held in private. The public condemnation of him only muddied the waters even more.
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