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
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
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
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
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.
They know Kyrie Irving doesn’t celebrate
Thanksgiving and they know exactly why because he has explained his
connection to his Native American heritage and the celebrated
slaughter of his people. The media is being very intentional right
now with Kyrie https://t.co/RCKWhaJn0I
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
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
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
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.
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.
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