Over the last week, I have been very active on social
media voicing my views on the Kyrie Irving situation, which
prompted quite a few active NBA players to reach out to me
privately to express that they too shared the view that the six
requirements laid out for Irving to end his indefinite suspension
were not only way over the top and excessive, but
Let’s do a quick recap of the events that have led us
to this point.
Irving shared a link to the documentary “From Hebrews
To Negroes: Wake Up Black America" without context, which caused a
firestorm, as many viewed this as an endorsement of the
At his initial press conference, he expressed his
reasoning for sharing the doc, saying, “When I post, it does not
mean that I support everything that’s being said or everything
that’s being done or [that] I’m campaigning for anything. All I do
is post things for my people and my community.”
He also said: “I’m not a divisive person when it
comes to religion. I embrace all walks of life. You see it on all
my platforms. I talk to all races, all cultures, all religions. And
my response would be, it’s not about educating yourself on what
antisemitism is. It’s really about where the root words come from
and understanding that this is an African heritage that is also
belonging to the people. Africa is in it, whether we want to
dismiss it or not. So the claims of antisemitism; who are the
original chosen people of God? And we go into these religious
conversations and it’s a big no-no, I don’t live my life that way.
I grew up in a melting pot, and I say a melting pot of all races:
white, black, red, yellow, Jewish, Christian, Muslim. You see the
way I live my life now, I’m not here to be divisive."
This was prior to his spat with ESPN's Nick
This was met with criticism, condemnation and
accusations that Kyrie was antisemitic, since people felt he was
endorsing and promoting antisemitic propaganda (which he said
wasn’t his intention).
The media as a collective began taking turns bashing
Kyrie, attributing beliefs to him that he did not express, and
since he didn’t vehemently denounce these ideas, many took that as
an endorsement. It's not uncommon for athletes to be attacked by
certain media talking-heads who shall remain nameless, but what we
saw was a unified, non-stop, public lashing of Kyrie across the
He deleted his tweet. Then, during another press
conference, he was asked if he was antisemitic and his answer was,
"I cannot be antisemitic if I know where I come from." He also
explained that he meant no harm, while adding that he wasn’t the
one who made the documentary.
This drew the ire of Brooklyn Nets governor Joe Tsai,
as Irving was swiftly suspended for a minimum of five games and
given six steps that had to be completed before he would be allowed
The Nets released a press release that stated: "We
were dismayed today, when given an opportunity in a media session,
that Kyrie refused to unequivocally say he has no antisemitic
beliefs, nor acknowledge hateful material in the film. This was not
the first time he had the opportunity — but failed — to clarify.
Such failure to disavow antisemitism when given a clear opportunity
to do so is deeply disturbing, is against the values of our
organization, and constitutes conduct detrimental to the team.
Accordingly, we are of the view that he is currently unfit to be
associated with the Brooklyn Nets."
Many people (including some who strongly condemned
Kyrie for posting the link to the documentary) viewed this as a
blatant attempt to emasculate and dehumanize Irving in front of the
Irving eventually posted a lengthy apology to the entire Jewish community
As I voiced my personal disproval of the six steps he
had to complete to return — which is unprecedented for an NBA
suspension — that’s when I started receiving messages from active
players who were also outraged by the treatment Kyrie was
receiving. However, they didn’t feel comfortable saying anything
out of fear that a similar outrage would be directed toward them or
that an objection to Kyrie's punishment would be interpreted as
supporting him posting the movie. They didn't want to be lumped in
with Kyrie and face the same backlash. Their apprehension was very
This caused me to ponder the question: what if this
Kyrie backlash causes athletes to go silent again? After all,
besides Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and Craig Hodges, athletes were pretty
quiet back in the 1990s. That continued through my era in the early
2000s. Only recently, since Colin Kaepernick's protest, has there
been a resurgence of athletes using their platforms and voices, and
it’s been beautiful to see. But it’s also important to note that
since Kaepernick took his stance, he has not played a single snap
in the NFL. In addition, all of the protests have stopped and, for
the most part, NFL players speaking out has significantly reduced
almost to a whisper. Could that happen in the NBA?
Over the last 24 hours, both NBA commissioner Adam
Silver and Joe Tsai said that they have met with Kyrie and can
report that, in their opinion, he is not antisemitic, which has led
many to believe that Irving will be returning to the court soon.
But has the damage already been done?
I reached out to Emerald Garner, the daughter of Eric
Garner who has a newly-released book that I co-wrote called
"Finding My Voice," to discuss
this situation. We talked about what it meant to her personally
when athletes used their voices and platforms to support her family
and whether the Kyrie backlash might scare players into being
silent going forward.
Etan: Do you think the backlash that
Kyrie Irving is currently receiving has the potential to silence
Emerald: "I hope not. Listen, I don’t
know anything about the film, and don’t support antisemitism in any
form or fashion, but I didn’t actually hear Kyrie say anything
antisemitic. And correct me if I’m wrong, but he didn’t produce the
documentary, did he? They’re acting like it’s his film."
Etan: No, he didn’t produce it, but
to be fair, he did share it without context. But he also cleared up
his reasoning for sharing it in his initial press conference. He
said he was just sharing it for the information and wasn’t
endorsing or promoting the film.
Emerald: "So, he apologized and
deleted it, right?"
Etan: Yes, he did.
Emerald: "But he still has to go
through all of these hoops before he gets to play again?"
Etan: Yes, the six steps he has to
1) He has to apologize and condemn the film
2) Make a $500,000 donation to anti-hate causes
3) Complete sensitivity training
4) Complete antisemitism training
5) Meet with the Anti-Defamation League and Jewish
6) Meet with Joe Tsai to “demonstrate an understanding
of the situation.”
Emerald: "Wow, that’s really a lot.
So let me say it like this: officer Daniel Pantaleo murdered my
father in broad daylight on video and he didn’t have to do anything
before he returned to active duty. I wrote about it in my book how
traumatizing it was to see him laughing and joking with other cops
on the street like nothing happened. He didn’t have to do anything.
He didn’t even have to apologize to the family of the man he
murdered. But they’re gonna make Kyrie do all this before he can
Etan: Wow, that’s a great point.
Emerald: "Listen, Kyrie and LeBron
and all of the players on the Brooklyn Nets at the time and Kobe
and all of the Lakers team supported my family after my father was
choked to death by the NYPD. Back then, every time I turned on the
TV, all I saw were people justifying his murder and saying why my
father deserved to die. I will forever be thankful to him and all
the athletes who stood with us for that."
Etan: Yeah, a lot of people were
quiet then, but athletes weren’t. That started a new boom of
athletes using their voices and platforms. That’s why I wrote my
book "We Matter: Athletes And
Activism" and interviewed so many athletes and impacted family
members. I wanted to encourage the next generation of athletes to
continue to use their voices and show the impact it has. My fear
now is that after this, athletes may start being quiet again or
people may advise them to be quiet again in fear of the Kyrie
Emerald: "And that would be tragic.
You have done an amazing job promoting that concept and, yes, there
is great power in their voices. When I turned on the TV and saw all
of the NBA players wearing 'I Can’t Breathe' shirts… I’m getting
emotional right now..."
Etan: I’m sorry, I don’t want to
Emerald: "No, it’s ok. You know I
always get emotional when we talk, and we talked about this in my
book, but when I saw them wearing those shirts, it made me feel
seen. That someone actually cared about what happened to my father.
It didn’t feel like anyone cared. The police definitely didn’t show
any remorse. They all stood around and watched as Officer Pantaleo
choked my father to death, then they all supported Pantaleo, not
one of them condemned anything. So many people supported Pantaleo
like they always do when the police murder someone. But it was
Kyrie and NBA players who supported me. And my father
loved basketball. He loved every New York team that
existed. Even sports he wasn’t even that into, if they were [a team
in] New York, he supported them. He would’ve been so proud how they
all supported him. I can see his big smile now. I can’t tell you
how much I miss seeing that big smile of his."
Etan: It’s so important that people
know this, and understand this. I’ve gone on multiple programs
recently and said that silencing athletes that you disagree with
isn’t the answer. Instead, have an actual dialogue. And I really
Emerald: "Listen, we have done enough
speaking engagements for me to fully understand and be a supporter
of dialogue. Of course it’s important. And not lectures but
actually listening to because, correct me if I’m wrong, but I
didn’t hear Kyrie say anything bad or anti-anything. He said I love
everyone, I respect all religions. It’s like they’re trying to make
him believe things that he didn’t say he believed. At least that’s
how I see it."
Etan: I definitely agree. I didn’t
hear him actually say anything antisemitic. I’m just worried about
the effect it will have on athletes moving forward. When I was
playing, I had so many people warn me to be careful (including
David Stern). I had other people who literally said you don’t want
to get done like Craig Hodges or Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. I heard
Shannon Sharpe initially say that on his show "Undisputed." I see
people putting that notion out there.
Emerald: "Well, that would be tragic
if athletes did 'shut up and dribble.' I’mma be honest, I didn’t
realize the impact y’all have until I started working with you and
talking to other impacted families who had athletes stand up for
them. How Russell Westbrook spoke up for Terence Crutcher, how
Stephen Jackson spoke up for George Floyd, how LeBron speaks up for
a lot of families, how the whole Milwaukee Bucks [team] spoke up
for Jacob Blake, how the whole NBA spoke up for Breonna Taylor and
I can go on and on and on. It’s important. Take it from me, it