4.23.2010

We All Have Questions

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This is a very important question that I think warranted discussion. However, first some news: FreeDarko's Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History now has a cover! Also, please be reading my Playoff Talking Points. Now, me and Eric Freeman look into Steve Nash and the sin of omission, or projection, or that which cannot be named.

Bethlehem Shoals: In the interest of full disclosure and total, awkward honesty, this email exchange is an attempt to recreate a phone conversation from the afternoon of Thursday, April 22, 2010. I telephoned Eric Freeman, outraged that Steve Nash—generally seen as one of the more politically active, or at least aware, Phoenix Suns—wasn't speaking out against the anti-brown person malarky being considered by the state of Arizona. Actually, I was outraged that no one was crying for him to speak out. Remember when LeBron James not taking a stand against Darfur made national news? Now, a player with a reputation for activism had nothing to say about a serious issue in his own state.

Eric Freeman: Maybe Nash just isn't as big or controversial an activist as we thought. If you look at his charitable contributions, they all involve your standard fare: green initiatives (the charity so uncontroversial that both NBC and the NBA devote an entire week to it), children's funds (which is essentially apolitical now), etc. Those are all worthwhile causes, of course, but not on the same level as a birtherist bill in his state of employment. I think he gets this attention as an activist simply because he looks like one: floppy hair, white, wears vaguely trendy clothing. He's easier to sell as a politically involved player because it requires less convincing on the part of the league -- they can trot him out there without much explanation. He's a useful presence for the causes the league wants to promote.

BS: Okay, after remembering the web research I did yesterday, I have to agree. Although he was against the war before it was considered okay, which has to count for something. I'm tempted to say that Amar'e, with his ongoing work in Sierra Leone, might be doing more—though then we get into the difference between service, activism, and how much either one is ever strictly "political". This still hasn't answered my question, though: If Nash has this identity projected onto him, and it contributes to his popularity (or at least his image), why doesn't it come into play here? It's almost like he gets the benefit of being viewed this way without being held accountable. Whereas when LeBron James and Kobe go to China, they're expected to become political. Nash gets a pass here . . . because he already is?

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For the record, Steve Nash spoke out against Darfur in the spring of 2007; Ira Newble's petition was around the same time. Kobe and LeBron lent their names to the cause in spring 2008, then were mum during the Olympics. Not to editorialize, but Nash is the most popular athlete in Arizona. If ever there were a time when his voice really mattered like no other, and thus would really be taking a stand, this is it. But again, is that what athletes are obliged to do?

EF: The difference here, I think, is that speaking out would be a direct response to many of his fans. Granted, I'm sure a large number of Mavs fans were pro-war in 2003, but that's a broader argument not specific to the state in which he played. This issue is about Arizona, and he's the most popular basketball figure in the state. It'd be a break not just with a popular political position, but the legislature of the state he represents around the rest of the country.

BS: So athletes are expected to use their influence for good . . . except when it hits too close to home and could potentially alienate some of their fans? I'm not sure how that's so different from my argument that we shouldn't expect LeBron to be responsible for a chain of international affairs that leads from Oregon to Darfur. Not because he's incapable of it, but because at some point, there are limits to responsibility. Except here, the limit would be. . . when it really involves a serious confrontation with the people who look up to you? It's almost like Steve Nash has done enough to be given this pass (which to some degree, makes sense to me), but other athletes who don't do anything can have expectations thrown at them willy-nilly.

EF: But how often are athletes asked to take controversial stands? Even in the case of LeBron and Darfur, there wasn't significant uproar about his decision not to take a stand -- it's not as if liberal activists would turn down his involvement in any number of less controversial issues. It's almost as if the public wants action, but not necessarily anything that could undermine their status as basketball players. It sounds great to have another Muhammad Ali, but what if political circumstances hadn't allowed him to return to boxing? Is that a tradeoff we're willing to risk?

BS: It was too a big story. I think the first one—his refusal to sign Ira Newble's petition—may have been bigger than the Olympics silence. To be fair, the latter was a gag order imposed by Colangelo, so that would have required a higher order of un-American defiance. But that first time around, it was in the Wall Street Journal and stuff. Brought up the whole "no better than Jordan" conversation. He eventually did end up addressing it, along with Kobe and several others, and there was no fallout. Not during the Olympics, or in China afterward, but again, maybe those fall under the "asking too much" rubric. LeBron is really obligated to defy the Chinese government while he's on a publicity tour there?

Maybe it's a question of good politics, in the most cynical sense. There's idealism, and then there's realism. We should always assume that athletes are hampered by some degree of realism. The question is, in Nash's case, can we push that so far that he's totally let off the hook? You're right, he would be directly challenging his fans. Not just staking out a position in some vague geo-political system of affairs. That would be like LeBron protesting Darfur during the Olympics—it would go right up against what American told him to do. He would be defining America for himself. That's what Nash would be doing in this case.

Except, and maybe this is key, dude's Canadian. Oooops!

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30 Comments:

At 4/24/2010 12:07 AM, Blogger Brendan K said...

We're probably also remembering that he's cited the Manifesto to the media. At the risk of invoking Klosterman (my sworn enemy) the simplest name drop with Marx can make any athlete SEEM like a revolutionary, until you remember those kids you knew in college who were reading it and never missing an opportunity to let you know god-damned well about that fact.

 
At 4/24/2010 12:26 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

The Klosterman article. As Kevin Pelton pointed out to me, in it Nash says something about how he doesn't say "controversial" stuff because it's too much of a headache for weeks afterward. This is right after he came out against the Iraq war. That whole sentence sounds weird.

 
At 4/24/2010 2:30 AM, Blogger Josh said...

Maybe it is unfair of me, but I do expect more of Nash than of LeBron. Why? Because Nash was just some small school guard and even though he was drafted, he didn't become a full time starter until he was 26, while LeBron has been LeBron, Inc since he was 17. When has LeBron had the chance to develop any sort of political activism? Meanwhile, Nash is unique among NBA stars in that there were no sponsors, agents, etc to care about his political beliefs until he was in his mid to late twenties. And since he evidently has those "controversial" political beliefs, I do expect him to act on them to some extent (if he really gives a shit). Maybe that's unfair, I don't know.

 
At 4/24/2010 2:42 AM, Blogger David said...

Maybe he's kind of busy right now, you know, play-offs and all, and doesn't want the headache and all the questioning and media attention that would come with any overtly political statements. For the team's sake it's smart to have a 100% hoops-focus for the next few weeks and steer clear of anything that would endanger that.

 
At 4/24/2010 10:52 AM, Blogger Teach said...

One thing Steve Nash won't have to worry about is catching flack from Jim Brown a la MJ or Tiger Woods.

 
At 4/24/2010 11:25 AM, Blogger djbtak said...

Great work following up this issue, but it seems to me that linking this with Darfur or anything else avoids the really obvious fact: any political stand which alienates a team's fan base is never going to fly unless Nash wants to be the second coming of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. He may as well start asking for reparations.

 
At 4/24/2010 1:12 PM, Blogger MichaelSDG said...

The larger problem is our expectation of private activism as opposed to the Suns organization taking some type of positive stance on the matter. Obviously one would hope for Steve Nash to make a statement--and the possibility of his making one is still foregone--but our expectations for these statements seem misguided.

I also wonder if we tend to conflate Nash's marketed image with the true degree to which he is political; he has come out against and for a lot of very general national issues which in ways reinforce his identity as 'cool dude' basketball renaissance man, but I can't remember if he has ever spoken of anything with any specificity.

Also, the white player Marxist drop seems to be another marketing ploy. Just as with the SI article about Adam Morrison some years ago, it is often employed to reinforce the image of shaggy haired white players as new age white hopes, which I assume is to appeal to the young, urban and liberal NBA fan.

The self-contradiction of Marxism and the NBA should lay out the impossibility of such in full.

 
At 4/24/2010 1:15 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Michael--That's Eric's first point: We project this onto him. You're right, though, that the league/corporate entities also encourage this.

Skim the Klosterman piece I link to above, it's pretty relevant in this context.

 
At 4/24/2010 1:25 PM, Blogger MichaelSDG said...

The only thing I wished to add was that the use of the Marxist imagery is often not just projection but a genuinely false image, which we seem to swallow very quickly, if only to exonerate our own complicity in consuming and participating in problematic system.

That is where projection can come into play, in full. Through our alt-analog Steve Nash, we can escape our own guilt in loving something that has so much affective potential but employs it so little.

 
At 4/24/2010 1:30 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Got it. I'd like to add, then, that there is a difference between Adam Morrison's Che posters (college boy bullshit) and Nash reading the Communist Manifesto out of curiosity or speaking out against a war. There's something there, the question is what. And how much Nash himself might be interested in hedging his outspoken-ness.

 
At 4/24/2010 4:10 PM, Blogger Josh said...

Got it. I'd like to add, then, that there is a difference between Adam Morrison's Che posters (college boy bullshit) and Nash reading the Communist Manifesto out of curiosity or speaking out against a war. There's something there, the question is what.

From an outsider's perspective, I think part of the difference is that, culturally, Che Guevara and 'trendy' Marxism is seen as a 'phase' (white) college boys go through before they grow up and become middle managers in the 'real world'. That's part of the reason why it is useful as a marketing image, and therefore more worthy of suspicion. Whereas, a rich guy with a family in his thirties seeking out Marxist literature doesn't fit into those broader stereotypes and marketing archetypes, so there is a chance that there could be more to it than "college boy bullshit" or marketing. I think.

 
At 4/24/2010 6:18 PM, Blogger MichaelSDG said...

Oh yeah, there is definitely a difference between Nash and Morrison, I really don't want to badmouth Nash, because I respect him a lot for how he approaches his position. I am just pointing toward how Marx is used as an object in the article and how we consume those types of objects.

But anyway, there is obviously way more nuance than I let on.

 
At 4/24/2010 7:42 PM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

Pondering this, I began to wonder whether the issue is bigger than one player with a vaguely political public persona. The éne•bé•a has spent a lot of money and effort marketing itself to this country's latino population and received a lot of that community's money as a result. Are they now also part of the NBA community, or are they merely customers? If the former, how much further down the road to internment camps does the state of AZ have to go before the NBA (and the Suns and Texas and CA teams) takes some action (even if behind the scenes)? If the latter, I wonder whether Stern & Co. have analyzed the revenue impact of indifference vs. activism.


wv: gedlyte--average education level of the AZ legislature

 
At 4/25/2010 9:26 AM, Blogger walrusoflove said...

Nash is not fronting. Dude is from vancouver island, the most left-thinking place on the continent.

I appreciate when stars have opinions and speak out, but its not like all of us are spending our saturdays helping cleaning parks and cooking for homeless people. And agree about avoiding the circus during the playoffs....could be deemed selfish if it takes away from the team's task at hand.

Sidenote: Its always amusing to see people get worked up about 'marxism' and 'socialism' like RockyIV was a documentary. Its like the last two years never happened? Like there wasn't a bailout where the government took joint ownership of failing companies to save the economy while lining the pockets of big business and the wealthy? Privatize gains, socialize losses. Thats taking the worst parts of capitalism and socialism and putting them together like that new KFC chicken sandwich without the bun, with a side of freedom fries and a cherry coke.

 
At 4/25/2010 10:00 AM, Blogger W2 said...

@ walrus...."Like there wasn't a bailout where the government took joint ownership of failing companies to save the economy while lining the pockets of big business and the wealthy? Privatize gains, socialize losses. Thats taking the worst parts of capitalism and socialism and putting them together like that new KFC chicken sandwich without the bun, with a side of freedom fries and a cherry coke."

Amen!

 
At 4/25/2010 10:00 AM, Blogger Josh Dhani said...

Great post, Shoals. Looking forward to your book coming out. Keep up the good work as always man here at FD.

 
At 4/25/2010 12:31 PM, Blogger Brendan K said...

@MichaelSDG @shoals

File Morisson's Che poster next to J.J. Redick's "Into the Wild" fixation in the Childish Bullshit file, along with most of the people who read Marx at that age (a group that Nash obviously isn't a part of, though I certainly was at 21.)

 
At 4/26/2010 12:48 AM, Blogger spanish bombs said...

I would expect this post to encourage some reporter to ask Nash about the immigrant thing, so he should be taking a position soon!

Also, would Nash's presumably non-insane position be productive if the Suns flame out? Maybe he's waiting to make sure they get some goodwill built up. After all, he is an immigrant himself, and we all know that he sucks at defense, which is characteristically lazy of an immigrant. Tough sell.

I think that it is pretty certain that the NBA would NEVER officially look at the revenue impact of taking a stand; someone would leak it, and it would look very bad. Besides, the answer is so obvious that it would be pointless.

 
At 4/26/2010 11:04 AM, Blogger Silas said...

Would it be a forgivable omission if Nash just looked at the situation and realized that he wouldn't be able to do any good? One of the things that connect Nash's various activist efforts is a certain pragmatism - giving money to buy children food actually accomplishes something concrete. Lots of people with wider audiences than Lebron James have railed against Dafur and, shockingly, things there are still kind of shitty.
Anyone who truly wants to do good in this world sooner or later learns to pick his battles. I too felt compelled to voice my opposition to the war in 2003 – I marched up Lakeshore Drive along with 10,000 people who felt the same way – and hey look, the war happened anyway.
What is it going to accomplish if Nash stirs this turd right now? I doubt that anyone in Arizona who might still be on the fence about this issue would be moved to think differently if Nash speaks up - he'd probably just get a lot of basement dwellers threatening to deport him.

 
At 4/26/2010 10:56 PM, Blogger Admiral Jameson Sax said...

I think it's possible that Steve has an opinion on the issue but doesn't feel comfortable addressing it because it's not an area that he is passionate about/knows that much about. And that's not a slam on him. There's all kinds of issues that I have feelings about, but I know very little about some of those issues and tend to pick my battles in accordance with the ones I'm most passionate about and feel competent to discuss. If Steve speaks out on every topic to come down the pipeline, will his opinions on other topics carry as much weight? At some point, when a celebrity chimes in on every topic under the sun, we just roll our eyes and begin to despise him/her. Or at least I do.

And then there's the whole being in the middle of the playoffs thing.

 
At 4/26/2010 11:50 PM, Blogger walrusoflove said...

david stern makes love to free speech

 
At 4/27/2010 8:19 AM, Blogger JeremiahRenne332 said...

看後受益良多,謝謝∪ˍ∪........................................

 
At 4/27/2010 11:04 AM, Blogger Deckfight said...

Love this.
"It was big," said Nash, "We hadn't really got into our stride yet, they were making everything. I just felt like we had to think of this like the stock market -- we're not day traders, we're very conservative and long-term in our investment in transition. You can't think, 'This isn't working, we have to walk the ball up to get a good shot.' Let's keep the tempo going to our pace."
Nash on taking a 3-2 lead over Portland.

 
At 4/27/2010 11:24 AM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

@Deckfight: I saw that quote, too. That's a far cry from reading the Communist Manifesto.

 
At 4/28/2010 6:11 PM, Blogger Bhel Atlantic said...

Nashty is technically an immigrant, although he's lived in the US for the last 18 years. I don't know if he has LPR (green card) status in the US or whether he holds a P-1 visa like other foreign players.

Anyway, point is that some yahoos would tell him to run back to Canuckistan if he spoke out on this particular issue.

(Although, it must be noted, plenty of conservative pundits in the US are Canadian...)

 
At 4/29/2010 11:42 AM, Blogger Bhel Atlantic said...

Arizonan Barkley (aided by George Lopez) was quite unequivocal on last night's TNT broadcast about his opposition to the new law.

 
At 4/30/2010 2:52 PM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

MLB Players Association criticizes the AZ law.

Will the NBPA and NBA also step up and defend their players, employees, and fans?

 
At 5/02/2010 3:23 AM, Blogger Kareem Elzein said...

I think that Mr. Six makes a very good point. The question of agency and blame should not fall on Nash as an individual, especially as he is a part of the Suns organization. It is there responsibility, in many ways, to provide an environment that allows employees to be politically conscious without fear of retaliation. I wonder if those conversations have taken place within their organization. Would they, too, take a stand if Nash took a stand?

 
At 9/28/2010 12:47 PM, Blogger viv stamper said...

FYI Steve Nash did speak out against the Arizona immigration bill http://www.immigrationgucl.com/blog/bid/39214/Phoenix-Suns-Star-Steve-Nash-Speaks-Out-Against-Arizona-Immigration-Law

Perhaps he waited because his entire team took a stand against the bill together http://news.firedoglake.com/2010/05/04/phoenix-suns-star-gm-speak-out-against-arizona-immigration-bill-will-wear-los-suns-jerseys-tomorrow/

 
At 6/14/2013 6:08 PM, Blogger Jim Philips said...

Well I have to admit that we have to give the journalism that kind of job to ask the questions but it doesn't mean that you can tell them your question for them to do so. We really like to do that on Hostpph community.

 

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