The NBA may never separate itself from its racial identity.
The league has no pads or helmets to hide behind. A large majority of the league's players are black. That is an inescapable fact. It should not matter. It does not matter.
Except when someone — particularly someone with some measure of political power — plays up to negative stereotypes and reminds us how far this country has to go in race relations. And, to some extent, how the NBA remains front and center when it comes to prominent black men in the community and the public spotlight.
Those negative stereotypes got stirred up again when Minnesota State Representative Pat Garofalo sent out a tweet that was simply inexcusable in modern society:
Let's be honest, 70% of teams in NBA could fold tomorrow + nobody would notice a difference w/ possible exception of increase in streetcrime
— Rep. Pat Garofalo (@PatGarofalo) March 9, 2014
Garofalo did not delete the tweet and began backtracking almost immediately. He claims it was a statement to the quality of play in the league — something that has come under criticism lately from luminaries like Charles Barkley and Jerry West.
Garofalo issued this apology, so at least he showed the sense to retract his statement and learn from his mistake.
In the last 24 hours, I’ve had the opportunity to re-learn one of life’s lessons: whenever any of us are offering opinions, it is best to refer to people as individuals as opposed to groups. Last night, I publicly commented on the NBA and I sincerely apologize to those who I unfairly categorized. The NBA has many examples of players and owners who are role models for our communities and for our country. Those individuals did not deserve that criticism and I apologize. In addition, it’s been brought to my attention that I was mistaken and the NBA policy on drug enforcement is stronger than I previously believed. Again, I offer my sincere apologies for my comments
Could it have been an honest mistake? An ill-timed press of the "Send" button? Yes.
It also remains an incredibly naive and insensitive remark. One that needed the swift correction that came from Twitter. Such as the point that more NFL players are arrested than NBA players every year. Or the point that more politicians end up breaking the law than NBA players.
So these kinds of comments, particularly in a league that is still fighting off the image issues of the early 2000s when the Malice at the Palace reigned and corporate fans had trouble identifying with the attitude and styles of its stars. Just talk about how divisive Allen Iverson is to get an idea about that.
The NBA had to do a crazy bit of social engineering to change that perception by instituting the dress code. Nobody thought that would work as incredibly well as it has.
That has helped change the perception of the NBA and its players. Apparently it is not enough thanks to stereotypes that remain uncsciously in people's minds.
The struggle continues.