The NBA has a long history with guns and the glamorization of gun culture. This is not something new. Yet with the current climate of escalating gun violence in our schools, what responsibility do basketball players and the NBA have toward an attitude they appear to tacitly promote.
Cosmetic gestures like the 1997 change of renaming the Washington Bullets to the Washington Wizards are no longer enough. Owner Abe Pollin renamed the Bullets due to his reported growing anxiety with the increasing D.C. homicide rate. It is time to stop trying to avoid the problem and start addressing it.
We are talking about a league and a group of men that have enormous sway over youth attitudes, norms, and a number of social issues involving violence and guns. Certainly a league that can pull 72 million people for a single game and has arguably the most youthful slant of any major sport being the first major sport to five million followers on twitter and claiming a combined 260 million facebook likes and twitter followers among its players can do more.
Former Nets guard Devin Harris once estimated that 75 percent of players in the NBA own guns.
"I mean, look at the situation," said Harris, who added that he does not own a gun. "A lot of guys have been robbed. A couple of guys, God rest their souls, have passed away. I guess they feel like they need some sort of protection, I don't know. I can't speak for everybody. I'd say between 60 and 75 percent (of players own guns)."
The player’s actions and gun-related run-ins with the law only verify these claims. In December 2009 Gilbert Arenas got into trouble for bringing four handguns into the locker room. He then proceeded to include the guns in a “practical joke” on Javaris Crittention who allegedly pulled a gun of his own in retaliation.
In September 2009, Delonte West was arrested on gun charges after being stopped for a routine traffic violation and police found him armed to the teeth with a loaded gun in his waistband, another strapped to his leg, and a third in a guitar case in his car.
Stephen Jackson was suspended for seven games in 2006 after popping off five shots outside an Indiana nightclub. Sebastian Telfair was suspended two games for attempting to board a team plane with a loaded gun in 2007. Chris Mills was involved in an incident with Bonzi Wells that reportedly escalated into Mills pulling a gun on Wells in the parking lot after the game.
The NBA officially has a “zero tolerance” policy on firearms, but the real question is what does that really mean and is it enough? The NBA’s policy on guns was established in the Collective Bargaining Agreement of 2005 following the Chris Mills incident and forbids guns at NBA venues and events. This is not exactly the strongest policy. Plus, the consequences for violating the policy have been mild throughout.
I’m not promoting radical punishments for NBA players possessing firearms, but I am suggesting ignoring the influence athletes have over our culture is irresponsible. We have a group of men that exert an enormous amount of influence over this issue with young adults and are themselves held to no higher standard.
One basketball player that is holding himself accountable, even if it is in the smallest of ways, is Chicago Bulls star Joakim Noah. Noah recently decided it was time to retire his signature six shooter celebration after dunks.
“You can’t joke around with things like that. Too many people are dying because of guns. We have a problem here with guns, so (I’m) just trying to be a little bit compassionate about what’s going on. You can’t joke around — it’s not a laughing matter anymore.”
“I think it’s what happened in Connecticut that was really shocking to a lot of people but things like that have been going on,” he said. “We have a serious problem with that in Chicago. It’s crazy, man. You just hear about … the summer and the movie theatre (in Aurora, Colo.); it’s happening all the time. This is just unheard of. Every story is just horrific. It’s just not a joke. This gun thing in this country is no joke.”
Personal accountability is the first step to an epidemic that is out of control. Each and every individual, parent, role model, athlete, and politician needs to step up and take the small steps that creates the momentum needed for a movement to put an end to a trend that we can all agree is a tragic reflection of a society gone awry. If this was an isolated incident we would plead ignorance and wash our hands, but this is more than one tragic shooting. This is an epidemic. This is the symptom to a problem. A problem organizations like the NBA need to stand up against. Joakim Noah took a smell step in the right direction.
What is your small step?
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