Brooklyn has a problem -- multiple problems, in fact -- but let's focus on one: He goes by the name Kyrie Irving. It was Elton John who belted, "It's sad, so sad. It's a sad, sad situation. And it's getting more and more absurd." Absurd is surely one way to describe the circus that has set up show at the Barclays Center.
It was announced Thursday that the Brooklyn Nets are suspending Irving for an indefinite period but at least five games. The drama continues to escalate and evolve at lightning speed since Oct. 27, when the seven-time All-Star and former NBA champion first tweeted about a book and movie widely known for their antisemitic content. I don't feel comfortable quoting the film or book here, but you can check out these excerpts from ESPN's Pablo Torre, who watched the film in preparation for his latest episode of "(debatable)." I can't wrap my head around how anyone could promote anything with those kind of deafening dog whistles. The craziest part to me is that we probably wouldn't even still be talking about this if Irving had just said two little words from the jump: I'm sorry.
The never-ending irony of this horror show is that after I initially completed an article on the controversial baller's inability to apologize, in the final hours of Thursday evening -- after the Nets' suspension announcement -- Kyrie took to his Instagram account to finally issue a proper apology. However, is an Instagram caption apology even a proper apology?
So what took Kyrie so long? Let's look deeper at the Brooklyn-based rollercoaster ride.
Dribbling Around An Apology
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The Brooklyn star had added insult to injury every single time a microphone was placed in front of him by spewing all sorts of nonsense. Then, earlier this week, it looked as though things were starting to possibly resolve. The Brooklyn Nets released a joint statement with both Irving and the Anti-Defamation League, announcing a combined $1 million donation. The statement read:
"To promote education within our community, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets will each donate $500,000 toward causes and organizations that work to eradicate hate and intolerance in our communities. The Nets and Kyrie Irving will work with the Anti-Defamation League, a nonprofit organization devoted to fighting antisemitism and all types of hate that undermine justice and fair treatment for every individual. This is an effort to develop educational programming that is inclusive and will comprehensively combat all forms of antisemitism and bigotry."
The statement also contained an "apology" from Irving, although the words "I'm sorry" were never directly expressed.
"I oppose all forms of hatred and oppression and stand strong with communities that are marginalized and impacted every day," Irving said. "I am aware of the negative impact of my post towards the Jewish community and I take responsibility. I do not believe everything said in the documentary was true or reflects my morals and principles. I am a human being learning from all walks of life and I intend to do so with an open mind and a willingness to listen. So from my family and I, we meant no harm to any one group, race or religion of people, and wish to only be a beacon of truth and light."
Sure, "we meant no harm" and "I take responsibility" imply that the athlete knew how his actions were received but not that he was sorry for them. Admitting you hold responsibility is inherently different from being sorry for your actions. He continued to dribble around an apology, getting so close to the words and yet not explicitly saying them -- and then he kept talking to the media.
Denouncing Antisemitism Shouldn't Have Been This Difficult
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Kyrie doubled down on his beliefs in a recent presser, sparking collective facepalms across the country. The actions during this press conference seemed to be the catalyst for the Nets and NBA to take further action. For as much as Irving claims to be a student who "knows the Oxford dictionary," I don't think he fully understands what antisemitism is. If he did, surely he'd have found it straightforward to apologize, right? Denouncing any form of bigotry should be simple, clear and uncomplicated. It just seemed as if he wasn't getting it, or was even trying to for that matter.
Charles Barkley -- who has built a legacy speaking out against bigotry -- along with fellow TNT panelist and former big man Shaq, even took time to criticize Irving. Chuck said, "I think he should have been suspended. Adam Silver should have suspended him. They made a mistake. I can't believe we're talking about this idiot." It seemed as if everyone from former players to museums had been trying to implore Irving to do the right thing; and with hate crimes dangerously on the rise, Irving could have pivoted to use his voice to mend the harm he caused and to help.
Instead of listening, Kyrie famously pushed back: "Did I do anything illegal? Did I hurt anybody, did I harm anybody? Am I going out and saying that I hate one specific group of people?" he said to reporters. "It's on Amazon, a public platform, whether you want to go watch it or not, is up to you. There's things being posted every day. I'm no different than the next human being, so don't treat me any different."
The Anti-Defamation League finally had enough. The ADL, a global leader in fighting against antisemitism and all other forms of bigotry, announced Thursday it would reject the controversial basketball star's $500,000.
ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt took to social media, saying, "Kyrie Irving has been given ample opportunity to do the right thing, apologize and condemn antisemitism. He has failed at almost every step along the way. We were optimistic but after watching the debacle of a press conference, it's clear that Kyrie feels no accountability for his actions. ADL cannot in good conscience accept his donation."
It's unclear if the Anti-Defamation League will decide to reaccept the donation in the wake of Irving's latest statement. The money would go a long way to helping fund further fights against extremism.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Remember when social media didn't exist and the news wasn't 24/7? We lived in complete contented obliviousness about who some of our favorite athletes were. Gone are the days when you can separate the athlete from the man or woman. Sure, you can try; I hear some even do it successfully. But I think for most of us, it's hard to root for or support someone once we hear something abhorrent about them. The court of public opinion makes it nearly impossible to come back from certain mistakes -- racism and bigotry being two of the biggest, and understandably so.
Thursday night, a little over a week after the controversial tweet, Irving did deliver the apology we were all waiting on. Sure, the Nets' suspension probably played a part in his decision to release a new statement. Does that mean it's insincere? Brooklyn did drop some dagger-sharp words prior to the star's apology.
The suspension statement didn't hold back, reading in part, "We were dismayed today, when given an opportunity in a media session, that Kyrie refused to unequivocally say he has no antisemitic beliefs, nor acknowledge specific hateful material in the film. This was not the first time he had the opportunity -- but failed -- to clarify. Such failure to disavow antisemitism when given a clear opportunity to do so is deeply disturbing, is against the values of our organization, and constitutes conduct detrimental to the team. Accordingly, we are of the view that he is currently unfit to be associated with the Brooklyn Nets. We have decided that Kyrie will serve a suspension without pay until he satisfies a series of objective remedial measures that address the harmful impact of his conduct and the suspension period served is no less than five games."
Unfit. The Brooklyn Nets believe Kyrie Irving is unfit to be associated with the organization. If that doesn't make you rush to issue an apology, the suspension without pay probably will. I almost feel bad for Irving -- I said almost. If he'd taken a moment to listen to what those who reached out to him were saying, he could have avoided this entire media storm and prevented further harm to the Jewish community.
I hope Kyrie meant the words written in his Instagram caption, and I hope we all can use this opportunity to educate about the dangers of using our platforms to promote hate speech and false information. Yes, we have free speech, but we also have a responsibility to each other to not use that freedom to harm or incite. In Germany, where Nazis came to power, there are strict laws that govern antisemitic hate speech: "Germans face up to three years in prison for approving of, glorifying or justifying Nazi rule"; there are also penalties for denying the Holocaust.
History, if used wisely, can help us avoid repeated foibles and failings. I applaud Irving's thirst for knowledge and truth, but we must remember that misinformation and extremism often camouflage themselves as unwavering truths when they are, in fact, dangerous propaganda. Hopefully, Kyrie has learned the difference and will begin to distance himself from his love of conspiracy theories. I'd love to see him continue to use his platform for what he aspires to be most of all -- a beacon of light.
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