Give James Dolan this much: Sports teams aren’t qualified to speak out on what’s going on right now. Most of the team and league statements we’ve seen have been verbal diarrhea, not to mention how Dolan himself is fresh off going full Karen on Charles Oakley.
The New York Knicks, under Dolan’s ownership, are one of only two NBA teams, along with the San Antonio Spurs, not to release a statement about systemic racism in the past few days, as the murder of George Floyd has sparked worldwide protests. But Pablo Torre of ESPN got his hands on an email that Dolan sent to Madison Square Garden employees about the subject.
“As companies in the business of sports and entertainment, however, we are not any more qualified than anyone else to offer our opinion on social matters,” Dolan said in the email. “Our companies are committed to upholding our values, which include creating a respectful workplace for all, and that will never change.”
Even on that last point, there’s the opportunity for some eye rolling. What might Anucha Browne Sanders say about “a respectful workplace for all” under Dolan’s leadership? Houston police chief Art Acevedo was specifically talking about Donald Trump on Monday when he said, “Please, if you don’t have something constructive to say, keep your mouth shut.” But it can apply just as easily to sports teams.
Dolan also owns the New York Rangers, and as hockey has been dealing with its own been dealing with its own race issues, the other New York team, the Islanders, may have had the worst public statement by any team in this moment, with their only mention of police being, “To the brave officers who go to work every day seeing the human being and not the color of one’s skin, we thank you for protecting us.”
Just because Madison Square Garden, as an organization, is unfit to weigh in here, that doesn’t preclude entering the public space. The Washington Wizards managed to get it right, presenting “A united statement from our players” late Sunday night.
“We will no longer tolerate the assassination of people of color in this country,” the Wizards players said. “We will no longer accept the abuse of power from law enforcement. We will no longer accept ineffective government leaders who are tone-deaf, lack compassion or respect for communities of color. We will no longer shut up and dribble.”
If Dolan is uncomfortable making a statement, he easily could turn over the platform of the Knicks’ social media accounts to the players, but the Knicks have long been obsessed with controlling their own narrative from the top down with regularly catastrophic results. As for the Rangers, prospect K’Andre Miller, earlier this spring the target of racist Zoombombing during a team event, released his own statement, which included “support (of) the Black Lives Matter movement.” But also there was Tony DeAngelo, recently seen defending Donald Trump’s bleach-drinking recommendations, who made a list of black people he knows and went on to complain about property damage. Points for trying, maybe, but DeAngelo, like his organization, simply does not have the standing to make a meaningful statement here.
The Knicks and Rangers would not heal New York or America by putting out a mealy-mouthed corporate statement. And it’s a tricky road for any team to go down, as all of them have relationships with their local police departments. But the point of these statements isn’t to foment any real change, or even to score PR points. It’s about letting the people who work for the teams and leagues know that their organization gives a damn.
That was the key part of Torre’s tweet with the Dolan email: “I’m told that Knicks players and employees are furious that the team hasn’t made a public statement about George Floyd.” That’s a problem for a team that already has a toxic reputation for the way ownership handles, well, everything.
For Dolan, who once wrote a song about Trayvon Martin, the options here were to release a statement that would have been inadequate and roundly lampooned, or not release a statement, frustrating his angry employees. The Wizards offered an alternative, but as is the case with any good idea, Dolan completely ignored it, and the result was both not releasing a statement and having his email get out anyway to the effect of the Knicks and their owner coming off even worse than anyone could have imagined at the outset, a result that is both classic Knicks and classic Dolan.
Looking for ways to advocate for black lives? Check out this list of resources by our sister site Lifehacker for ways to get involved.