Before Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday night the Miami Heat held a moment of silence for those who lost their lives during a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Nothing out of the ordinary. Professional sports leagues often show solidarity with communities in the wake of tragedies. What happened next was surprising as the Heat used the playoff stage to advocate for gun control, which we desperately need as a society. But then they obfuscated the message by both-sidesing the issue and honoring law enforcement immediately afterward.
Heat’s public address announcer, Michael Baiamonte, read this statement:
“The Heat urges you to contact your state senators by calling 202-224-3121 to leave a message demanding their support for common-sense gun laws. You can also make change at the ballot box. Visit Heat.com/vote to register, and let your voice be heard this fall.”
A moment of silence. pic.twitter.com/8Ycn1uqN0i
— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) May 26, 2022
What was so interesting about this was the message was not limited to the crowd at FTX Arena in Miami. With the game being televised on ESPN, which carried the pregame ceremony live, it was broadcast around the world.
Right after the plea to contact senators and demand common sense gun laws, the Heat honored a local law enforcement official. It dulled what would have been a powerful message, by nodding to the propaganda that leagues have been selling fans since 9/11.
Acclaimed author and journalist Howard Bryant writes about the patriotism and nationalism that have crept into sports since, and the conflation of the police and military in his book “The Heritage: Black Athletes, a Divided America, and the Politics of Patriotism.”
It is taboo for any public facing business to say anything anti-police, because it is viewed by many as anti-American.
The NBA and other leagues have gone out of their way to prove how pro-American they are by honoring military and local law enforcement before every single game. Signaling to a certain portion of its consumer base that everything is okay. “We love police and the military,” which means “We love America.”
For that group, what is more American than toting a gun?
Cops stood outside the school while the killer rampaged inside.
Onlookers yelled at them to go in. They didn’t. One parent urged bystanders:
— Andy Specht (@AndySpecht) May 26, 2022
A common-sense gun law message in and of itself would have signaled something very different to that group.
The NBA stopped televising pregame ceremonies and player introductions a while back. Randomly you would see it televised in the wake of something deemed serious enough to warrant televising. The mass shooting at Robb Elementary fit the bill.
No doubt the Heat made the NBA aware of what they were going to say because a statement advocating for gun control, though it shouldn’t be, is political.
The NBA and the Miami Heat are businesses and like all businesses that rely on public support, they have to be mindful of upsetting any part of their consumer base. For the logical fear that if a segment of their consumer base no longer views said business in a favorable light, that could have a negative impact on the bottom line.
The H.R.8 bill, which would expand background checks on all firearm sales, and close online sales loopholes, is not being voted on in the U.S. Senate because of the opposition by Republican senators to the legislation.
For the Heat, and by association the NBA, to speak on this was a bold and necessary move worth applauding. The United States is the only developed nation with mass shootings at this absurd level. The thing those other nations have in common are very restrictive gun laws. The opposite of the U.S.
But to muddy that message with propaganda to ensure a certain segment of your customer base wasn’t offended or so that people on the political right wouldn’t attack the league was weak.