Steve Ballmer, owner of the LA Clippers and the former CEO of Microsoft, says he would have supported Clippers players if they had chosen to engage in political protests during the playing of the national anthem.
Of course, that didn’t happen. Amidst all of the fervor over anthem protests in the NFL, no NBA players have knelt in protest before NBA games.
Ballmer, speaking to Yahoo Finance at a Penn Wharton forum in Washington, D.C., was asked how the NBA has managed to avoid the political turmoil that has hung over the NFL for two seasons, and responded, “I think on that one, we had clear rules. I would have supported our guys, I would have been okay with whatever they wanted to do. But the rule was clear that you need to stand for the national anthem, and if you don’t, there’s consequences, and our players all knew that.”
Indeed, the NBA has a league rule, dating back to the early 1980s, that its players must “stand in a dignified posture” during the national anthem. Many fans are surprised to learn that fact, since the NBA, driven by commissioner Adam Silver, has earned a reputation for being progressive on social issues and encouraging of players sharing their political views on social media. In a memo sent to teams last year, the NBA reiterated its rule about standing for the national anthem, and said that the league office would “determine how to deal” with players and coaches who do not follow the rule.
The NFL, on the other hand, until recently, had a policy that encouraged players to “stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand, and refrain from talking” during the anthem, but it was not an official rule, and there was no punishment enforced by the league for not following it. Last month, the NFL changed the policy: it will now fine teams if their players protest.
Silver has said that the NBA has no plans to change its rule, and that the NBA Players Association has not sought to have it changed.
Ballmer’s argument on protests is that the NBA rule being in place helped prevent players from doing it, and also that, “We had the benefit of the fact that the NFL had already gone.”
But most importantly, he argues, “I think our players have better avenues to express themselves.” As an example, he cited when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony opened the 2016 ESPY awards with a political action speech, and Ballmer says, “I thought was awesome… Our players are adults, they have a right to an opinion, and they have a right to participate in the political debate.”
The NBA season has just wrapped up, but as we head into a new NFL season after the NFL has changed its protest policy, many are expecting a fresh round of protests, which could surely compel athletes in the NBA and other sports to chime in. Athlete political protests is becoming a topic that players, team owners, and even CEOs can no longer avoid discussing.