Tramel: Maybe this pause of NBA Playoffs can move us forward
When I speak to Rotary Clubs or journalism classes, one of my constant messages is to remind people that we really don’t know the athletes we cover or cheer.
Maybe we did back in the 1950s, when they worked off-season jobs in the same community for which they sported a jersey or lived in the same neighborhoods as our insurance agents and schoolteachers.
But not now. Now, we see athletes only through the prism of their ballgames. On-court feats. Interviews. Packaged videos from their organizations.
So when they disappoint us on a personal level, when an athlete runs afoul of the law or leaves for another franchise, that feeling should be on us. Not them.
We don’t really know them. We shouldn’t allow them to disappoint us.
And the same is true when they anger us.
The love affair between the Thunder and many Oklahomans is over. Not because of playoff failures or high ticket prices or shoddy television production.
The love affair is over because the players had the audacity to speak out against what they see as racial injustice.
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From the jerseys bearing “EQUALITY” (Chris Paul), “BLACK LIVES MATTER” (Dennis Schröder) and “LOVE US” (Devon Hall) to the walkout Wednesday that interrupted the NBA playoffs, many Oklahomans say they are finished with the Thunder.
Which is fine. It’s a free country.
But before the divorce is final, let’s try a little counseling session.
Telling ballplayers to shut up and dribble is as ludicrous as players telling fans to shut up and cheer. We all are more than just our job, and that’s true if you drive an oil rig or drive the lane against P.J. Tucker.
And getting angry at ballplayers we not so long ago cheered is self-defeating, since we don’t really know them.
White people don’t know the experiences of Black people. We don’t know their fears. We don’t know what it’s like to be Black in America.
But we should know that it’s different. Which means our simple solutions are not so simple and not so solvable. When we tell Black people to just cooperate with police, we lose them quickly. That’s not their reality.
I’m pro-police. I love the Blue. Unless I’m going 60 mph down Tecumseh Road on a Tuesday morning, I get a comforting feeling when I see a squad car. I like it when a peace officer rolls through my neighborhood or walks my street.
Law enforcement is the toughest of jobs. More difficult than firefighting. More difficult than removing land mines. More difficult than guarding James Harden.
It can be a dirty job, but someone has to not only do it, but do it well. That’s what the players are saying. I assume that’s what most police believe, too.
We need more talking between the parties. Not necessarily from NBA players, though frankly, they’ve become the spokesmen. We say shut up and dribble, but we certainly ask them a lot of questions. And it’s often questions unrelated to 3-point shooting and pace of play.
Chris Paul conducts more press briefings than does the mayor, and David Holt is incredibly accessible. Paul’s availability is not because CP3 demands it. It’s because we demand it. We want to hear from him.
And in this NBA bubble, where the players agreed to congregate on the condition that social justice would be a major theme, we get a bunch of Zoom meetings when the topic turns to race.
That’s a good thing. That’s what we need. We need more discussion. We need it both ways. We need to hear from more police.
Not just chiefs and commissioners.
I’d like to hear from more street cops, on what it’s like out there. I’m just guessing, but in the same way that Blacks are scared of police, police might be scared of Blacks.
That’s a problem not easily solved, but the more discussion both ways, the better.
Why are unarmed Black men getting shot and killed by police? Why are Black men resisting arrest?
In this environment, we treat those as statements, not legitimate questions in search of an answer. Let’s look for the answer.
We’re not likely to find it unless we look.
And getting angry at players for protesting is quite un-American.
A friend of mine is disabled and in his 70s. He’s lived more than half his life without the Americans with Disabilities Act. The 1990 ADA changed his life for the better in profound ways.
Thirty years later, it seems crazy that we ever had government buildings and schools and stores void of ramps and elevators and handicap parking.
Do you know how we got the ADA? Here’s what the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund says:
“The ADA owes its birthright not to any one person, or any few, but to the many thousands of people who make up the disability rights movement — people who have worked for years organizing and attending protests, licking envelopes, sending out alerts, drafting legislation, speaking, testifying, negotiating, lobbying, filing lawsuits, being arrested — doing whatever they could for a cause they believed in.”
That’s the American Way.
What are the ramps and elevators that bring us to a better place in race relations? Maybe the NBA playoff disruption helps us find out.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at oklahoman.com/berrytramel.