Should professional basketball players be allowed to boycott their games? Of course. Current NBA players, along with players in the past, have used the forum to address social issues. Technically, the decision last month was probably best described as a strike rather than a boycott. It led to other professional teams cancelling their games as well.
In a well-written and thoughtful piece, Andrew McCarthy argues that the action may be somewhat illogical, but certainly allowable. “For a work stoppage to be successful, it has to withhold something the potential consumer wants.” As he puts it, the “sand is running out of the hourglass.”
Most spectators turn to sports to get away from politics and politicized issues, at least for a few hours. It is an oasis from the turmoil. But the oasis is disappearing. Much of it surfaced over “The Star-Spangled Banner” which wasn’t even the national anthem until 1931. And it wasn’t even routinely played before sporting events until World War II.
He says he wishes that “patriotic displays were not controversial, but fine: If playing the anthem sullies the experience for a sizable number of fans, let’s not do it.” But the biggest issue is whether we should allow protests at the game. The owners and NBA have decided to indulge the behavior, for now.
The players are free to kneel before the game or even boycott a game. But the spectators are also free to boycott the league and tune them out. Freedom works both ways. McCarthy says he loves sports, but sporting events are just one of many things he enjoys.
During this playoff run, the NBA players are in a bubble because of the pandemic. That means they play to lots of empty seats. If they keep up this behavior, they will be playing to lots of empty seats next year.