Clippers owner Steve Ballmer went on Real Time with Bill Maher last night, and while his panel segment probably won’t make the same headlines as Maher’s one-on-one John Kerry interview, Ballmer did have plenty to say, as per usual.
Given the forum, the current intersection of politics and sports was always going to come up, and Ballmer didn’t hold back much, if at all. Ballmer was on with Mark Leibovich, who wrote Big Game, a book about NFL ownership.
“I’ll speak for the NBA,” Ballmer said tonight. “We believe our players should express themselves. We are pleased to see our players express themselves. I encourage our players, use your platform. Speak.”
Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft and owner since 2014 of L.A.’s basketball franchise, made the NBA-NFL distinction during a panel discussion of conservatism in sports and the NFL’s attempts to keep players from protesting during the national anthem.
Ballmer is conveniently leaving out that the NBA actually requires players to stand for the anthem, which is obviously a big deal. Beyond that, though, it’s difficult to argue the NBA doesn’t support players and their right to speak out on community and social issues to a stronger degree than the NFL has.
Ballmer also thinks the NFL has a less diverse fanbase, which increases the pressure on players. The NFL’s ownership is also less diverse, with just one non-white owner:
The racial make-up, Leibovich said, between owners and players is stark: 75% of “the workforce” is African American, while every owner but one is white (Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan is a Pakistani-American). Noting that many NFL owners contribute to Republican candidates (and some to Donald Trump’s inauguration), Leibovich said, “Basically they’re saying no politics in sports unless you’re the owners.”
In any case, it’s interesting to see an owner in one league taking direct shots at another league, although it’s still probably not quite Mark Cuban’s (perhaps prescient) “pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered” critique.