On this particular Labor Day, the big story might be the actual withdrawal of labor, more precisely the unprecedented decision of some NBA teams (followed by some in other sports leagues) to refuse to play in response to the shooting of a Black man by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wis. (and the broader "systemic racism" that shooting supposedly reflects), about which, several observations.
The first is that NBA players lack credibility when claiming pervasive racial injustice because their very status as NBA players undercuts such claims. The NBA is roughly 75 percent Black and the average player makes a remarkable $7.7 million per year. Rather than victims of white privilege or any of the other dubious concepts in the social justice lexicon, they are among the most privileged human beings on earth.
An America pervaded by racism, in which white police officers routinely shoot young Black males for sport, cannot be the same America that provides young Black males with annual salaries many times greater than such white police officers earn in their lifetimes.
There is also a certain irony in young Black athletes refusing to play games because of white racism when the majority of those who purchase tickets to the games and thereby provide those young Black athletes with their lucrative salaries happen to be white fans.
Calling the folks who made you rich racists (a logical inference of the systemic racism argument, which equates racism with "whiteness") is a peculiar expression of gratitude.
NBA players are not contemporary versions of Jackie Robinson; to the contrary, their privileged status actually reflects the dramatic diminution of racism that has occurred over time in American society (and in professional sports especially, due to the actions of much braver souls way back when, like Robinson).
Also found in the NBA "no play" protests is, as so often, the peculiar assumption that celebrity status comes accompanied by profound insight into social and political issues -- professional athletes, like other citizens, have the right to express their opinions (at least outside of the workplace, and even at it with their employer's sufferance) but it is unclear why anyone should care what those opinions are.
Getting a job in the NBA requires being athletic and tall and highly proficient at dribbling a sphere prior to depositing the sphere into a hoop, not the demonstration of knowledge of social and political issues. It would be strange indeed to take one's political cues from folks who in the vast majority of cases enrolled in college only to play basketball, were allowed to enroll only because they were good at playing basketball, and demonstrated only the bare minimum of effort in their coursework in college so that they would remain eligible to play basketball until the NBA draft rolled around.
Perhaps we would take the pronouncements and actions of NBA players on questions of race relations a bit more seriously if we didn't entertain doubts that most wouldn't be able to correctly identify on a multiple-choice quiz the century in which the Civil War was fought or which constitutional amendment abolished slavery.
William F. Buckley famously claimed that he would rather be governed by the first 400 names in the phone book than by the Harvard faculty. I'm not entirely sure Buckley was right, but if one replaced the Harvard faculty part with "NBA players" (or NFL or MLB players), it would certainly be more convincing.
Finally, we come to the part which almost always occurs when a step is taken without sufficient consideration of what the next one might be: with the precedent now established that NBA players and other professional athletes will respond to alleged racial-injustice incident "X" by refusing to ply their trades, what happens when, and given the logic of their arguments about systemic racism, alleged racial injustice incident "Y" and then "Z" occur?
If Kenosha requires canceling say three games, what if something comes along that at first glance, invariably before all the facts are in, seems more outrageous than Kenosha? What if LeBron and the others of greater commitment (and accumulated wealth) propose canceling a full month of games, or maybe the entire season? Do the other players go along and sacrifice their careers on the altar of wokeness, or do they just do a Gilda Radner-style "never mind" and go back to dribbling?
Put differently, having now politicized their sports league, how do the players turn back short of turning it into a political organization rather than a sports league?
If American society is truly as racist as NBA players suggest by their actions and rhetoric, and having supposedly elevated political principle above the playing of a mere child's game for filthy lucre, how can they justify playing any games at any point? And if no games are played, what happens to those soapboxes from which they denounce as racist the same world that made them millionaires?
If people care about what LeBron and company think because they are basketball players, what happens if they refuse to play basketball?
The hunch is that professional athletes have now put themselves on a path without thinking much about where it leads and for which there are few exit ramps.
Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.