NEW YORK – With NBA training camps underway, preseason games set to begin next week and the 2017-18 regular season opening on Oct. 17, it was inevitable that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver would be drawn into the controversy over protesting NFL players, perceived disrespect to the American flag and kneeling during the national anthem as a way of heightening awareness of alleged social ills.
Some of what Silver said, during a media session Thursday after the NBA’s annual autumn Board of Governors meetings, was simple and straight-forward. His league has a rule on the books that requires players to stand and “line up in a dignified posture along the sidelines or on the foul line” during the anthem.
“It’s been a rule as long as I’ve been involved with the league, and my expectation is that our players will continue to stand for the anthem,” Silver said.
Asked if there would be a penalty if a player or team were to violate that rule, Silver said: “All I can say is if that were to happen, we’ll deal with it when it happens.”
He mentioned players linking arms while standing, which might be what some fans see as NBA games begin.
While athletes and some segments of sports fans have acted recently to inject politics into sports on more than an occasional basis, Silver spoke fondly of the days not long ago when basketball, football and the like were kept largely politics-free, a demilitarized zone that appealed to fans across ideologies.
“Sports historically, and in the NBA in particular, has been a unifying force,” Silver said. “While there’s always been disagreements in society, sports arenas have been places where people from all walks of life have come together and for a common experience.”
But since former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision in 2016 to kneel during the anthem to protest what he felt was racism in lethal encounters between police officers and black citizens across the U.S., politics has reared its head in the sports world repeatedly. The Presidential campaigns leading up to the election in November were polarizing, and Donald Trump’s unexpected victory dialed up the rhetoric, which dialed up some of the responses to it, and so on.