How long will the media continue to troll Kyrie Irving?

How long will the media continue to troll Kyrie Irving?

Kyrie Irving’s first press conference after returning from his suspension was met by a barrage of reporters seemingly throwing a series of questions at him that could have potentially resulted in him being suspended again.

One interpretation is that the reporters were just doing their job in asking Kyrie the questions that inquiring minds would like answered. However, another interpretation is that Kyrie asked (very politely) if the reporters could simply stick to questions about the actual game, and they seemingly ignored his request and continued to ask questions that could potentially get him in hot water once again — an intentional attempt to set him up.

I wanted to delve deeper into this topic, so I reached out to journalist Chuck Modiano, who is a senior writer for Deadspin and has also written for the New York Daily News.

Etan Thomas: Does it seem like the media is now picking on Kyrie?

Chuck Modiano: Let me first say that you have been doing a great job on social media covering this.

Thomas: Oh, I appreciate that.

Modiano: No problem. Well, there are definitely a couple of members who keep harping on it, but the problem is, they don’t do that to other athletes. I don’t think Jerry Jones is going to be peppered the same way. I know initially they asked him, but I doubt the questions will continue. I could be wrong, but we’ll see. But the double standard always exists with Black athletes and it always has, and part of that double standard is the makeup of the press — and what the press finds noteworthy and not noteworthy to pursue. So yeah, it’s definitely there and will continue to be there and we have to keep calling it out.

Thomas: I agree, but I don’t see enough people calling it out and that’s the part that frustrates me. It seems like it’s just accepted. And let’s take the actual content of everything that happened with Kyrie out of the discussion for a moment, and just compare this to how, say, Brett Farve was dealt with in the media. I mean, he didn’t have to do anything — he didn’t have to apologize or nothing?

Modiano: I think Brett Favre is a great recurring example. With Kyrie, it goes so far beyond the initial discussion of anti-semitism. It goes to something greater in media. The Black athlete is profitable and the Black athlete’s perceived misbehavior is profitable. And we know this when a discussion should shift and it does not. So I’ll give you an example. So there was a period of time where the discussion moved from Kyrie Irving to Jeff Bezos — let’s hold Amazon accountable. He’s making all this money off "Hebrews To Negroes." And let’s form a petition, etc. And there were some famous actors joining in the charge. Rolling Stone actually had pictures of those actors, but most publications, even if the article was focused on Jeff Bezos and Amazon, still had the cover picture of Kyrie. So I said, "Well, that’s not about perceived anti-semitism, that’s about anti-Blackness." Because, again, the whole article was about Jeff Bezos and Amazon, so why is Kyrie on the cover picture? That was an editorial choice and that’s when you have to examine the fact that anti-Blackness will get you more clicks and there is more profit in anti-Blackness.

Thomas: That’s interesting. Now that you say that, I definitely noticed that as well. And to your point, there are a lot of Black media that participate in that as well. Right now, there are a lot of people trying to give Jerry Jones a pass. I just saw Stephen A. Smith and Jason Whitlock both defending him today. I actually tweeted about it.

Modiano: It’s completely ridiculous. And listen, I am someone who has marched with former Nazis who are now against Nazis and are now on the anti-racism side and it’s their life mission to flip other Nazis. So I am someone who believes to the greatest extent that reform is possible. But let’s take Jerry Jones here, and put aside the fact that probably 95% of white people in Arkansas in 1957 more than likely shared a certain belief about Black people, I think we can safely say that. But not everyone joined a mob to terrorize Black students, so there is a difference between racist thoughts and racist actions. And it’s important to remember that in 1954, the Brown vs. Board of Education was put into law, and the one of the ways white people would fight against that law was through mob action, and Jerry Jones was a part of that. So if you’re going to tell me he’s changed, I need to see it. I see his comments about [Colin] Kaepernick. I see the fact that he has never had a Black head coach. I see him donating half a million to Governor [Greg] Abbott’s campaign. This doesn’t sound like he has changed too much since 1957.

Thomas: And the same with Brett Favre. I haven’t seen anything where he's tried to make amends after this $77 million Mississippi state-welfare-fund scandal or any evidence that he has changed. They say it’s always something with Kyrie; well, it’s always something with Brett Favre, right?

Modiano: Oh, don’t get me started on Brett. He has a long, ugly history and I’m not just talking about outwardly supporting Donald Trump at the height of his racism and Charlottesville and Jan. 6th, or the inappropriate messages and nude pictures he sent to New York Jets game day host Ms. Sterger, but yes there is definitely enough history for there to be much more upheaval of outrage from the media. So we have to ask, why is the Brett Favre scandal not given the same attention and scrutiny as Kyrie? The answer could be simply that Brett Favre is not going to produce the amount of clicks that Kyrie will. But then you have to ask: why is Kyrie going to produce more clicks? Because Brett is retired and Kyrie is an active player? I don’t think that’s it. I think it’s because of anti-Blackness. We have a white customer service base that likes to see Black athletes being denigrated and will use Black media talking heads, like the ones you named before, to do the actual denigrating. That’s the bottom line. So some will say, "No, it’s the anti-semitism that is a much bigger issue." Well, if that were the case, all forms of perceived anti-semitism would garner the same reaction that Kyrie did, and it doesn’t.
Thomas: And to your point, let me read this tweet from Shaun King that read: “So we now know that Donald Trump just had dinner with one of the most explicit bigots and Holocaust-deniers in the world right now, Nick Fuentes. I need to see if Trump and the people who support him get the Kyrie Irving treatment now. I seriously doubt it." Now they can’t say that Kyrie has more power and influence than Trump, so will there be a big outrage about Trump? 
Modiano: We already know the answer to that. Of course there won’t and Nick Fuentes is a proud white supremacist and racist. He is an actual Holocaust denier and has spewed actual anti-semetic rhetoric out of his mouth. And Trump has himself said a lot of perceived, I’ll say, antisemitic statements. So in comparing the reaction of that to Kyrie, you’re right; it’s not the same outrage. A few years ago, I wrote an article with the New York Daily News asking, "Why are we not critiquing white athletes?" Whether it’s Tom Brady with the Trump hat in his locker or Brett Favre posing in a picture with him on the golf course, where were those same reporters who pressed Kyrie then? Where were the pointed questions that we are seeing repeatedly with Kyrie? So if we are going to have a media that is critiquing athletes the way they are with Kyrie, ok that’s fine, but let’s do it with the white athletes too. 
Thomas: So, how can Kyrie navigate through this? Because it seems like the media is going to continue to press him on topics where they’re almost trying to play GOTCHA with him. He has to meet with the media, or he’ll get fined. So should he just keep repeating the phrase, "Can you please only ask me basketball questions?" Or do the Marshawn Lynch ("I’m just here so I won’t get fined")?
Modiano: I’ll tell you what, I thought he turned the Thanksgiving question on its head pretty nicely. I thought it was brilliant how he navigated that. He ended positively, he wished everyone a happy holiday, and he did it with a smile, but he also made the point clear: I’m not personally celebrating Thanksgiving. And I think that’s great because it now brings the much larger discussion that is not going on about the actual history of Thanksgiving and the treatment of indigenous people of this country, so I thought he navigated that question brilliantly. 
Thomas: But do you think the media was again trying to pick at him? I tweeted about this and it got a very strong response. Anyone who has been even remotely following the NBA knows about Kyrie Irving’s connection to his Native American heritage. When I saw that, I was like, "Are they just trolling Kyrie now?" They could’ve asked any other player on the team that, but they ask him in particular? I just don’t think they would’ve asked Deni Avdija (the Washington Wizards forward who is Jewish) if he would like to wish everyone out there a Merry Christmas; I just personally don’t think they would. 
Modiano: So, I’m leaning toward what you’re saying. I don’t know who the particular reporter was, I don’t know the history, and we have to look at media collectively, not just this one person. 
Thomas: Oh yeah, it wasn’t particular to Meghan Triplett, the Nets new sideline reporter; I wasn’t saying that. I was just using this one instance as yet another example, not her in particular.  
Modiano: Right, but I think collectively, it’s no question the media has a double standard with Kyrie. It’s abundantly clear. So I’ll say it like this: I can’t say definitively that it’s a racial double standard, but I will say that it’s worthy of an investigation of a possibly racial double standard. And it’s not just Kyrie, there has been a racial double standard historically with Black athletes for decades. 
Thomas: So let me ask you this: People like Shaq and Charles Barkley were very direct with their critique of Kyrie. I actually tweeted about this as well. 
Modiano: I’m telling you, you’ve been on it on social media. And your interviews have been great too. Different perspectives. You even got a Rabbi! I haven’t seen anyone go to the length to actually sit down with a Rabbi and discuss this.
Thomas: (Laughing) Well, there’s been a lot to cover, but it seems like people like Charles Barkley and those of his ilk are just not willing to move past it. He brought it up again last night, saying he was disappointed that more NBA players didn’t come out and speak against him. I’m just like... he has apologized, served his suspension, went through the entire ridiculous six-step criteria they laid out for him, met with Adam Silver, met with Joe Tsai, and they all gave him the stamp of approval that he is not anti-semitic (although he never said anything out of his mouth that was anti-semitic). He went through all of those steps, so how long will it be before the media as a collective whole stops trolling him? 
Modiano: My response to the many problematic things that come out of Charles Barkley’s mouth is: Why is he being uplifted as this voice of Black America or something? I remember a few years ago, CNN did this series called Race In America, led by Charles Barkley. What qualified him to lead that series? 
Thomas: They could’ve gotten Craig Hodges, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Colin Kaepernick, John Carlos, Tommie Smith or if they wanted contemporary athletes, they could’ve gotten LeBron James, Eric Reid, Jaylen Brown, the Olympian Gwen Berry, Swin Cash... There are so many combinations of athlete activists they could’ve gotten. And I interviewed most of them in my book "We Matter: Athletes And Activism.” 
Modiano: Right, but they didn’t want any of them, they wanted Charles Barkley. Why? The same reason he was on CNN being the spokesperson of Black America, which I believe you tweeted about too.
Thomas: Yes, I did actually. 
Modiano: I told you, you’ve been on it! (laughing) But why Charles Barkley? Because they know what his position will be on the topic, so it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t have a rich history of social justice like all the athletes you mentioned before and interviewed in your book. They like the positions he takes so that will trump his actual qualifications. Same with Herschel Walker. But just think about it, they don’t do that with white athletes; they don’t turn them into the spokespersons for white America on race relations. Anybody know where Larry Bird stands on anything? Kevin McHale? Dirk? Jerry West? Chris Mullin? We have to question these networks who continue to put the mic in Charles Barkley’s face but at the same time, we know the answer. It’s because he is saying what they want to hear a Black person say. Anti-Black is anti Black whether it’s on Fox News, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, Jason Whitlock or Charles Barkley.
Thomas: So basically, a lot of people in the media are pawns like Kyrie said… You don’t have to answer that. Like you said, we already know the answer.
Check out these related episodes of "The Rematch."
Craig Hodges and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf:
Rabbi Harry Rozenberg:
Dave Zirin:
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