Editor’s note: A few hours after this column was published, the Nets suspended Kyrie Irving. Irving apologized on Instagram late Thursday night.
That’s enough. It’s time to suspend Kyrie Irving. No more dancing around the subject, no more chance for Irving to stand by a microphone and pull off his sly pseudo-intellectual/martyr performance. He can’t be trusted to say, do or even think the right thing and so Adam Silver or the Nets have to do it for him.
Irving blew his last chance for a real apology on Thursday with another press conference debacle. He had ample opportunity to denounce what should be so blatantly denounced, and he still didn’t. He has proven uninterested in self-reflection and incapable of a sincere apology because he is so committed to presenting himself as the deep thinker, which he clearly is not.
A week after promoting an anti-Semitic film full of lies, Irving is still determined not to get it. Instead of saying he was wrong, he said, “I didn’t mean to cause any harm. I’m not the one who made the documentary.” When asked if he was an anti-Semite, he said, “I can’t be an anti-Semite if I know where I’m from.”
When asked if he was surprised to have hurt people, Irving – who has African American and Native American ancestry – replied: “Where were you when I found out as a kid that 300 million of my ancestors were buried in America?”
Hey Kyrie, since you asked, I learned a lot about the Holocaust when I was a kid that didn’t happen in the movie you promoted. I didn’t learn nearly enough about how this country treated your ancestors. But when I found out about it, I understood that it was an important piece of history that everyone should learn. Why can’t you do the same with the Holocaust?
Irving has problems that Silver can’t solve. But Silver can and must suspend him.
If you’re one of those people who’s upset that Silver hasn’t already suspended Irving, that’s understandable. But it’s important to understand how scandals are handled in professional sports, and in the NBA in particular.
When a franchise is hit by a crisis, the league office is in regular contact with that team. Silver prides itself on communication; Naturally he had to talk to the nets all the time. Silver also has a long history of getting people to do what he thinks he should do. While NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been too eager to assert his authority, Silver prefers a more forgiving approach: We have to get there, but let’s get there together.
When then-Hawks chief executive Danny Ferry was caught reading a scouting report nearly a decade ago that South Sudan-born Luol Deng had “something African about him,” Silver condemned Ferry’s comments but said Ferry should keep his job. His hope at the time was his hope with Irving: an apology from the offender, sensible discipline from the team, a learning experience for all.
When Irving and the Nets announced they would each be donating $500,000 “to causes and organizations working to eliminate hate and intolerance in our communities” and that they would work with the Anti-Defamation League… well, You can safely assume silver not like the rest of us found out on social media. That should be a way for Irving to move on.
But Irving doesn’t want to continue. He made this clear in the statement released by the Nets, in which he did not apologize or specifically condemn anti-Semitism. That pathetic half-apology led to Silver responding Thursday morning with a statement calling Irving’s decision to promote the film “reckless” and saying, “I’m disappointed that he doesn’t offer his unreserved apology, and particularly the despicable one and denounced harmful content in the film he was about to release.”
Silver might as well have DMed that to Irving. The commissioner was ticked, but it was him quiet trying to help Irving get out of this mess. Irving just had to do as Silver asked. He didn’t even have to think of the words himself. They were right there in Silver’s statement – which was released before Irving spoke on Thursday. Irving had plenty of time to check it out.
Irving just had to say: Today I offer an unqualified apology. I condemn the heinous and harmful content of the film I intend to release.
Instead, Irving ducked questions about whether he was anti-Semitic and pretended to be persecuted. This is not just a dishonest academic argument. There are real consequences when celebrities like Irving normalize hatred. Hate crimes against Jews are widespread. To say “I’m not the one who made the documentary” is an evasive maneuver and an insulting one. When you’re promoting a KKK rally, you can’t say, “Hey, I’m not the guy running the rally.” Irving may think he’s some sort of philosopher, but his words have real and potentially dangerous consequences.
There are also immediate consequences for the league in terms of corporate dollars and reputation, both of which matter to Silver. Irving comes across as a right-wing parody of an activist NBA player. He threatens to undo so much of the good social justice work the NBA has done over the past three years.
So now Silver has no choice. Think back to that summer when Goodell Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was suspended for a season and Watson appealed. Goodell agreed to reduce the suspension to 11 games if Watson dropped his appeal and Watson apologized for his actions, which led to more than 20 women accusing him of sexual misconduct or sexual assault. In his official statement, Watson said, “I take responsibility for the decisions I’ve made.” But then Watson held a press conference and made it clear he didn’t think he was wrong at all. Goodell, who had already agreed to have the suspension reduced, had no real recourse.
Silver can’t afford that. I doubt Irving would even fully apologize to the Commissioner under threat of suspension; For years he has preferred what he considers his mystique to his career. But even if Irving did release a statement saying exactly what Silver wanted, who could trust him to comply?
Silver has to suspend Irving for the sake of his league. Irving did this to himself. Enough.
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