Redskin

Koreen: Kyrie Irving needs to be held accountable for promoting anti-Semitism



The NBA, its players association and the Brooklyn Nets should have long ago lost patience with Kyrie Irving. After Saturday, when Irving doubled down on his posting of a link to a blatantly anti-Semitic movie on his Instagram and Twitter account, it should be clear: All three parties should use any and all disciplinary actions they have at their disposal to make Irving understand that, yes, his actions have consequences. And yes, what he has done has the capacity to hurt millions and millions of people.

“I’m not gonna stand down on anything I believe in,” Irving said at the end of his news conference, after ESPN’s Nick Friedell admirably challenged him. “I’m only gonna get stronger and stronger because I’m not alone. I have a whole army around me.”

The league and its partners have to make clear that under no circumstances are they part of that army, imagined or otherwise. So far, Nets governor Joseph Tsai issued a statement that reprimanded Irving for appearing to “support a film based on a book full of anti-Semitic information, expressing a desire to sit down with Irving so he can better understand what he has done. It is the most anybody involved in the NBA has said or done, and it still extends the benefit of the doubt to a player who long ago ceased to deserve that treatment.

The NBA, meanwhile, couldn’t even bring itself to name Irving in its statement, again saying that its focus would be on making sure that everyone understands the “impact of their words and actions.”

If this is the best the league, Nets and NBPA — an organization of which Irving is a vice president, by the way — can do, then it goes a long way toward undercutting the numerous laudable efforts all of those parties have taken to fight to make the world a kinder, fairer, less hateful place. (The NBPA has not responded to an email from The Athletic sent late Sunday afternoon requesting comment.)

Nike, which has a partnership with Irving, responded similarly to the NBA.

In his postgame scrum Saturday, Irving presented precious little consistency. He at once said he has a special platform and also that he does not. He said that it was a mere post but also that some of his beliefs, including the sharing of a tweet from Alex Jones that confessed a belief in a “New World Order,” which is filled with anti-Semitic tropes, were the objective truth. He simultaneously agreed to and denied that anything could have possibly been inferred from his actions and words, including the posting of the link. When pressed on what the action meant, he said his posting the link was one and the same as what Friedell puts out into the world in his articles, the latter of which actually have to withstand the baseline of journalistic standards.

If there is any consistency there, it is that Irving expects to be able to say what he wants and not be held accountable. Here are some of the things that the movie he linked to, “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America,” contains:

• An attributed quote from Adolf Hitler saying that “White Jews know that the Negroes are the real children of Israel and to keep America’s secret, the Jews will blackmail America.”

• A discredited quote misattributed to Harold Wallace Rosenthal, an aide to Sen. Jacob K. Javits in the 1970s, which said Jewish Americans had established five falsehoods as part of a plan to take over the world. One of the five stated falsehoods was that 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust.

“Did I hurt anybody?” Irving asked. “Did I harm anybody?”

The millions of Jewish people who know about the horrors of the Holocaust and the long history that predates World War II of societies using tropes to scapegoat their ancestors would surely say yes, he did hurt and harm a lot of people. For somebody who declares himself to have an open mind, he sure seems closed off whenever honest criticism is directed his way. He deflects, and he gets defensive.

“Can you please stop calling it a promotion?” Irving said when Friedell challenged him. “What am I promoting? I’m promoting it? … Don’t dehumanize me out here.”

If Irving’s definition of promotion starts and stops with renting out a hotel room and doing a gauntlet of interviews while wearing a hat with the movie’s title, then sure, he’s not promoting anything. If you use a definition that is any broader than that, Irving is certainly promoting a clearly anti-Semitic work. Let’s be real: He isn’t that far away from saying Hitler had some good ideas. To give him the benefit of the doubt — to say that he is merely propagating something he doesn’t fully understand — you have to forget that he is a multimillionaire working within a multibillion-dollar industry, and that if he really wants to know the truth, he has the access and means to do so. Ignorance is never a good excuse. In this case, it isn’t one at all.

Instead, he bristles at criticism, and says the information he is putting into the world is not intended for those who do not agree with it.

“All I do is post things for my people and my community and those that it’s actually going to impact,” Irving said. “Anybody else that has criticism, it obviously wasn’t meant for them.”

He cannot even bring himself to give a “sorry if you were offended” non-apology. That says all you need to know about Irving’s beliefs and intent. The question, then, is what can be done about it?

For starters, Nike and the rest of Irving’s sponsors could cut ties with Irving, in the same way that Adidas and many other companies did with Kanye West recently after his rash of anti-Semitic comments. Irving has not been as obviously outspoken as West, but at some point, your unwillingness to examine your own actions says it needs to.

Elsewhere, the league and Nets could drop the pretense that Irving is merely ill-informed. Again, he is not in a position to use that excuse. What’s more? He is not even using that excuse. The Nets could go as far as to waive him. The league has fined and suspended players for the use of slurs before — most recently, Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards was fined $40,000 for homophobic slurs he used on his social media, for which Edwards actually apologized. Rajon Rondo was fined and suspended a game for directing a homophobic slur at NBA referee Bill Kennedy in 2015.

Irving did not use a slur, of course. We are truly splitting the least consequential of hairs if that is a real consideration here. In fact, the posting of the link is arguably worse, since it is a far more premeditated and thoughtful action than the use of a slur.

Anything more — anything that actually took substantial money and the ability to play in the league away from Irving — would likely have to be worked out between the NBA and the NBPA. Speaking of which, it is egregious that the NBPA continues to have someone on its executive board who is so committed to sharing these views. Those are elected positions, meaning he is accountable to the players he represents.

The NBA has been here before, if peripherally. A few years back, three colleagues and I wrote an open letter after former player and podcast host Stephen Jackson came to the defence of then-Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who had put anti-Semitic tropes on his social media similar to the ones espoused in the movie Irving shared a link to on his own platform. Jackson technically was not a part of the league, therefore allowing the NBA and its partners to sit out the conversation.

They don’t have that luxury this time. If Irving thinks he has an army, it is because not enough people in his world are telling him he does not.

(Photo: Elsa / Getty Images)





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