The realm of professional sports was once seen as an escape from politics and the social issues that so often divide the nation. In recent years, however, the NBA and other leagues have injected a partisan — almost exclusively leftist — ideology into the games, turning off a significant number of their once-loyal fans.
Among the most prominent examples is Phil Jackson, a former NBA player and Hall of Fame coach who said he essentially stopped watching the game amid the highly politicized posturing that emerged in 2020.
Phil Jackson, widely seen as the greatest coach in NBA history, says he doesn’t watch the NBA anymore because of all the political slogans introduced in 2020. He’s not alone in this. My oldest daughter and I used to love watching but it got too political to watch. pic.twitter.com/bV6Sb0qvrK
— Robby Starbuck (@robbystarbuck) April 22, 2023
As he explained in a recent interview, part of his decision to tune out was due to the “wonky” move to establish a “bubble” from which qualifying teams could play in the postseason during the pandemic.
Jackson said that the most egregious change that year, however, dealt with the heavy-handed use of social justice messaging within the league. In July 2020, NBA officials allowed players to choose from a list of more than two dozen words and phrases — like “Black Lives Matter” and “Anti-Racist” — to replace their names on their jerseys.
“They had things on their backs like ‘Justice’ and a funny thing happened like, ‘Justice went to the basket and Equal Opportunity knocked him down,’” Jackson recalled. “Some of my grandkids thought it was pretty funny to play up those names. I couldn’t watch that.”
He also denounced “slogans on the floor” during games, such as the decision to add “Black Lives Matter” to the court during the aforementioned playoffs. While such moves were a transparent act of pandering to the prevailing political climate, the 11-time champion coach said that it backfired in certain unintended ways.
“It was catering,” he said. “It was trying to cater to an audience or trying to bring a certain audience into play. And they didn’t know it was turning other people off.”
At the end of the day, he said that “people want to see sports as non-political,” but that is becoming difficult to do in today’s society.
Jackson concluded: “We’ve had a lot of different types of players that have gone on to be … Bill Bradley was a senator, a number of baseball players have been representatives and senators. … But their politics stay out of the game. It doesn’t need to be there.”