Discover more from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Reacts to the News: NBA Punishes Suns Owner (Not Enough), Graham Predicts "Riots in the Streets," Racist Backlash to "The Little Mermaid," "Rings of Power," the Joy of Religious Songs, and More
My thoughts on the top--and not so top--stories in this week's political, sports, and pop culture news.
I’m excited about this week’s column because I have such a variety of topics. We’ve got the usual political craziness and racism in sports and pop culture (though I long for the day when I won’t write about that because it won’t exist). But we also have a nice homage to Stevie Wonder and religious music and an appreciation of the fright delight Barbarians. Enjoy.
Sports: When Is Bad Behavior Too Much?
Summary: The NBA has fined Phoenix Suns and Mercury owner Robert Sarver $10 million (the maximum) and suspended him for one year from any participation with his two teams. After a 10-month investigation, it was concluded that he repeatedly used the n-word, disparaged women in the workplace, and created a hostile workplace.
My Take: How is it possible that owners using the n-word and harassing female employees is still a thing? Because some wealthy team owners still have a plantation mentality that their money insulates them from common decency or the law. They see themselves as elevated to godlike status and are confused and angry when everyone around them isn’t grateful to be in their presence. Instead of receding into history where it belongs, this arrogant paternal attitude has gained traction since the ascension of Trump and his acolytes. They have demeaned women by denying them their reproductive rights, banished the LGBTQ+ community, and diminished Blacks by curtailing their voting.
Sarver is just part of the larger pattern of the resurgence of an entitled conservative backlash against all marginalized people who have been making social and political progress. How was he able to get away with it for 18 years? That’s the real question—and the answer shames us all.
LeBron James has expressed his disagreement with the NBA decision by tweeting: “Our league definitely got this wrong… I said it before and I’m gonna say it again, there is no place in this league for that kind of behavior. I love this league and I deeply respect our leadership. But this isn’t right. There is no place for misogyny, sexism, and racism in any work place. Don’t matter if you own the team or play for the team. We hold our league up as an example of our values and this aint it.”
Suns point guard Chris Paul, former president of the National Basketball Players Association, also wanted more stringent consequences: “I am of the view that the sanctions fell short in truly addressing what we can all agree was atrocious behavior.”
In 2014, I wrote an article for Time encouraging the NBA to strip Donald Sterling of his ownership of the Clippers for the racist comments caught on tape by his then-girlfriend. Sarver should face the same punishment. What message does it convey to the public that 18 years of racism, misogyny, and mistreatment of employees is not enough to warrant getting booted from ownership? Reports confirm that throughout the years, members of Sarver’s staff advised him against this behavior, which he deliberately chose to ignore because he knew that money sets moral standards.
The NBA is the most socially progressive professional sports organization around, but they disappointed a lot of players, fans, and the general public by not taking the punishment far enough. A mere fine and one-year suspension is not an endorsement of Sarver’s behavior, but neither is it the zero-tolerance rejection it should be. The NBA had the opportunity to make a bold statement in support of Black players and women. But they blinked.
Politics: Is Lindsey Graham Still Relevant?
Graham Predicts ‘Riots in the Streets’ if Trump Is Prosecuted (The New York Times)
Summary: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) stated that “If they try to prosecute President Trump for mishandling classified information after Hillary Clinton set up a server in her basement, there literally will be riots in the street. I worry about our country.”
My Take: Trump’s devout altar boy uses the typical conservative scare tactic of warning that violence will be imminent if we allow: abortion, Black voting, women bosses, LGBTQ+ protections, all of the above). He tries to compare the investigation of Trump to the 2019 State Department investigation of Hillary Clinton, which concluded, “There was no persuasive evidence of systemic, deliberate mishandling of classified information.” Did Graham want to stop that investigation out of concern for potential riots? During the Revolutionary War, I think we know which side Graham would have been on. “Screw your Boston Tea Party, you scraggly misfits.”
When Graham says, “I worry about our country,” he means he worries about his own political future, which has been his only motivation in his entire career as eager toady to more powerful and popular Republicans.
Even if he’s right and there are riots, we should never let threats from those with no legal, moral, or ethical justification influence our policy-making. If we did, we would not be a democracy but cowards only acting in self-interest. We would be Lindsey Graham.
Do you know how many news articles I read to compile this column? Me neither. But it’s a lot. Show you support my craziness by subscribing.
Economy: How Quickly We Forget Our Heroes
Largest private-sector nurses strike in U.S. history begins in Minnesota (The Washington Post)
Summary: “About 15,000 nurses in Minnesota walked off the job Monday to protest understaffing and overwork — marking the largest strike of private-sector nurses in U.S. history.” The strike, which was set to last three days, is designed to emphasize how dire the need is for more staffing and a reorganizing in order to meet basic health-care standards. Studies indicate that “patients are more likely to die because of preventable reasons when health-care providers are overworked.”
My Take: Just a couple years ago, people were standing outside their homes simultaneously applauding the efforts of health-care workers as they risked their lives daily to tend to the thousands of COVID-19 patients flooding hospitals nationwide. More than 3,600 of them died during the first year alone. The stress and strain caused many to quit or retire early.
Well, the applause has died down but the stress and strain on them hasn’t. As with military veterans and 9/11 first responders, we love to sing their praises during a crisis, or get sentimental about them during memorials, but when it comes to paying back in their times of need, we often fall short. I have been in the hospital several times in recent years and it was the care of the nurses that made much of it bearable.
It is a test of our commitment, compassion, and intelligence that we do all we can to help the people we all will undoubtedly rely on at some time. In fact, our lives may depend on what we do now to support them.
Pop Culture: Racists Say the Darndest Things
‘Rings of Power’ Cast Slams Racist Threats Against Performers: “Middle-Earth Is Not All White” (The Hollywood Reporter)
Summary: Two recent articles discuss internet backlash against the casting of Black actors in fan-favorites The Little Mermaid and Rings of Power. A #NotMyAriel movement threatens to boycott the movie because Ariel isn’t a White redhead. Amazon had to temporarily suspend audience reviews because of the rabid campaign to downgrade the show due to its diverse cast.
My Take: Sometimes the internet’s social media can seem like a collective unconscious from the darkest recesses of the id. In other words, all our worst thoughts and impulses get expressed by our least intelligent and least articulate members. Clearly, this kind of racial outrage isn’t meant to change what’s already happened—they’re not reshooting The Little Mermaid or Rings of Power—it’s meant to seek validation from other racists and to maybe cause future productions to hesitate in casting Black actors. It’s pop culture gerrymandering meant to restrict the presence and voices of Blacks in mainstream society. It says enough about them that they are worked up over the skin color of creatures that don’t actually exist.
Music: Why I Dig (Some) Religious Songs
Summary: In this engaging interview, writer, musician and music industry entrepreneur Nabil Ayers, the son of jazz musician Roy Ayers, discusses his memoir, My Life in the Sunshine. During the interview he talks about why he considers Stevie Wonder’s 1976 album Songs in the Key of Life to be “the most spectacular record of all time.” Ayers explains that Wonder wanted to take a break from recording in order to do charity work in Africa. Fortunately for music, he decided to make this double album instead.
My Take: I’m going to be upfront with you that this is an excuse for me to write about two topics that greatly interest me: Stevie Wonder’s genius and the significance of religious songs, even among secular people.
I first became aware of Stevie Wonder when he was about thirteen, playing his hit song “Fingertips.” By the time he made Songs in the Key of Life he was a major force in music with all the awards and sales anyone could hope for. But it was also clear from his songs that he was interested in more than pop culture fame, he wanted to contribute to healing the world.
One of his many songs that address his spiritual path is “Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away” (which I’ve included below). Now, I don’t want to debate the pros and cons of religion, nor even some of the theological issues I might have with certain lyrics. I want to look at why I dig a lot of religious music, even when I disagree with the specifics of some aspects of various faiths, even my own.
There’s a word—agape—from the Greek that roughly translates into “the highest form of love” or in the New Testament as “the fatherly love of God for humans, as well as the human reciprocal love for God.” For me, at their purest level, most religions try to find ways to express this unconditional love and compassion. Gospel music is the translation of that impulse into passionate, energetic, enthusiastic commitment to agape. You can’t listen to great gospel music and not feel agape.
For some, God is the embodiment of that impulse, though I think it is a hunger in most of us to love others, whether or not we believe in a god. We struggle to love, which is selfless, despite our base instinct to selfishness. In other words, we all are looking for ways to give and receive pure, unconditional love. For some, the path is religion, for others, art or charity work or something else. Stevie Wonder’s song is a prayer that embodies that hopefulness that we can achieve the love we need to feel—and need to give. It isn’t important that you believe in his faith, merely that the song inspires your own desire to be better, to love others unconditionally.
Listen to this song! You’ll understand what I mean.
Movies: This Movie is Way Better than You Expect It to Be
‘Barbarian’ Director Zach Cregger on Making the Year’s Most Shocking Horror Movie and Jordan Peele’s Advice (Variety)
Summary: Director Zach Cregger discusses how his background as a member of the sketch group Whitest Kids U’Know and advice from Jordan Peele (Nope) helped form his twisty genre-bending horror film.
My Take: As I’ve gotten older, I’m less interested in the horror genre because I can’t be as cavalier about the intense and graphic suffering of people that is the defining element of most horror. However, when something original comes along—like Get Out, It Follows, Ready or Not, or Happy Death Day—then I’m interested.
Barbarian is an entertaining and original film, filled with unexpected twists, humor, and hand-wringing tension that it will be remembered as one of the best examples of the low-budget horror genre. Yes, there are the usual lapses in logic that the genre relies on to get rational people to do irrational things (like descend into a twisty dark catacomb), but these lapses are forgiven because the payoff works. I don’t want to spoil the surprises, but I’m very impressed by the bold choices in characterization and plot.