Our collective ability to comment on any and all subjects as though our opinions should carry weight is an idea I grapple with nearly every time I open my mouth to talk to a group of people larger than my immediate family.
Sure, there are things I think I am informed enough to speak on in the broader community of people; things that I do feel like I have some expertise on; things where I think my perspective adds value to the conversation. I run a website after all. I’m not so dense to not see my own participation in the commodification of ideas as a way to influence others in order to shift the debate and move opinions in my own direction.
Yes, I do understand my own position in this grand scheme of takes-trading for dollars and influence. It’s big business.1For others, not for me. However, I also understand the limitations that inherently exist within a culture where everyone has a megaphone to offer up their thoughts on whatever they want. On what is right vs. what is wrong, on what is smart vs. what is dumb. There’s an entire media marketplace that thrives on people who argue.
For me, I participate when I think I can add something of substance, but know when I am out of my depth. As if it weren’t patently obvious already, I am by no means someone who has expertise in all avenues. Which is why I try to stay in my lane.
You want to ask me about the game of basketball or the Lakers, specifically? I’m probably good for a few cogent thoughts that are pretty informed. You want to ask me about growing up lower middle class as a mixed race person with brown skin in a small-ish town where ethnic diversity far outpaced diversity of world view? I can talk to you some about that, too.
Veer into some other subjects, though, and my first instinct is to listen to those with lived experience. To listen to those whose lives carry the impact of decisions they’re asked to not only make for themselves, but the decisions that are dropped on their heads by those with the power and hierarchical position to do the dropping.
In those instances, I find it’s best to try to be empathetic and understanding. It’s best to listen, maybe ask a few questions, and listen some more. This is how I try to live my life in order to seek out a better understanding of what’s important, and what’s not, from the vantage point of those who must not only live with the decisions, but are actively involved (in one way or another) in the outcomes.
What does this have to do with anything that should appear on a Lakers site that also covers the broader NBA world?
Well, with the NBA’s scheduled return bearing down on us, the debate about what the league is doing, what they are trying to do, what they should do, and what individual players decide is best for them rages on. Sides are staked out and opinions are offered based on the information we’re being told, not only by the participants themselves, but by those whose job it is to peddle sourced information to the masses.
The league is being proactive and their plan is as sound as it can be considering the circumstances.
The league is only out for money and no safeguards that are put in place can guarantee anyone’s safety.
The NBA should cancel its season.
The players are right to have reservations about going, both from a health concern standpoint and from one that tilts towards concerns about overshadowing the ongoing protests surrounding social justice and equity.
The players can use their position and profile to amplify their concerns and, by playing the games, can bring even more light to the issues relevant to them.
These are semi-simplistic representations of what’s being uttered to all of us, but you get the point.
Personally, I don’t know what to think. Which, frankly, is what happens to me a lot when I see reasonable arguments coming from both sides of an argument with plenty of nuance. I try to relate to the different perspectives while making up my mind. So I listen. And I try to be respectful.
I also try to understand my position as an outsider and one whose stakes in this are low, relative to those who are tasked with making the decisions and those whose impact by those decisions will be most felt. And that’s where I try to step back, again, and listen some more.
What I will say, though, is that if the argument is that none of this would be happening save for the money at stake, I agree fully–even if not in the way some might expect.
Basketball may be a child’s game, but the NBA is a multi-billion dollar organization with stakeholders all around the globe. And in this venture, the league and the players are partners, tied through a collectively bargained agreement that all involved adopted together.
When viewed through that reality, I’m also reminded that nearly nothing happens in this world unless there is money at stake. Our current reality of pandemics, too-visible-to-ignore police brutality, and systemic inequities for too many marginalized groups may be exposing the weaknesses and atrocities of Capitalism, but Capitalism is still up on the scoreboard. The money is, of course, the point. And all our hands (from consumers to content producers to players to team governors to the league itself) have at least some dirt on them.
I also believe that when some of the people who have a vested interest in maintaining (or, in this case, restarting) the operations which generate those billions are also the predominantly Black workforce whose agency and value is being questioned (if not undermined) based on their inclusion of a broader group of people, things start to get tricky very quickly. Particularly when it’s people outside of that group who start to trumpet solutions based on perspectives born from worldviews not always rooted in the same experiences as those they’re telling how to proceed.
There is a paternalistic viewpoint here that concerns me. As happens all too frequently, people who come from a more privileged group try to tell the people whose actual decision it is to make that they should do things a certain way. That one group’s agency should be replaced by the decision making of a group whose stakes in the outcomes are lower simply by their position of either being a full on outsider or someone who is affected less directly by that final decision.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for looking out for the greater health of the people involved. I do understand that there are real social issues that deserve our undivided attention. I understand that the risks could very well outweigh the rewards.
I also feel, though, that it’s probably not my place to tell a group of Black Americans how to best pursue their goals, be them professional, economic, social, or otherwise. No matter what I understand the health risks of a pandemic to be.
Maybe that sounds strange, but again, I’m an outsider, so I’d rather just listen some more to better understand the perspectives of a group of people who I should not try to speak or make decisions for. I can say, straight up, I am worried about COVID-19 and the NBA’s ability to keep it at bay in order to salvage a season on the brink. I am also worried about distracting from a movement in this country that I personally believe is long overdue.
What I will not do, however, is pretend as if my worries should supplant those of the active participants (namely, the players), whose decision it is to make about returning to action. To say nothing, for most of them, of having to simply exist in a world where the value of the lives of the greater group that they belong to (and are leaders within) has now been placed into the center of our national dialogue. Nor how the opinions on and concerns about their choices to return to play by a lot of people who do not look like them might be juxtaposed against the larger discussion going on about how much the lives of the people who do look like them matter.
You see, part of understanding my own position is that there’s a certain privilege I carry by not being part of this group. That privilege allows me to judge from the outside without having to fully deal with or reconcile the ramifications of…well…anything related to any of this, really. I’m not a Black American. I’m not someone whose history is littered with these specific plights and where the impacts are still felt today.2Fwiw, I am half Native American and half Filipino so I certainly have some perspective on a different set of plights and have had my own experiences with people who have felt the need to put me in my place. So not only will I not act like I know best, I won’t even pretend to know the considerations at play when trying to determine the best way to proceed.
Of course I have opinions. I just recognize those should come secondary to those who make risk/reward assertions when simply leaving their house…and have done so long before there was a global pandemic to consider.