With the national debate over pro athletes kneeling during the national anthem intensifying this week with the return of the NBA, state Rep. Sean Roberts (R-Hominy) released a statement on Friday threatening to reexamine the Oklahoma City Thunder’s tax benefits if players kneel, yet all Thunder players and coaches knelt together anyway during the playing of the anthem in their first game on Saturday.
Upon the restart of the 2019-20 NBA season in its first game on Thursday (and the first contest played since the death of George Floyd), all NBA players, coaches and referees knelt during the national anthem in a coordinated protest, and the vast majority of players and coaches have done so in each game since.
In addition, players are permitted to wear social justice-related messages on the backs of their jerseys, and the courts on which all games will be played for the rest of the season will feature “Black Lives Matter” written on the floor in large, glossy black print.
Rep. Roberts, a Republican who has served in the Oklahoma State House of Representatives since 2010, stated that kneeling during the anthem is an “anti-patriotic act” and that Black Lives Matter is trying to “destroy nuclear families.”
“If the Oklahoma City Thunder leadership and players follow the current trend of the NBA by kneeling during the national anthem prior to Saturday’s game, perhaps we need to reexamine the significant tax benefits the State of Oklahoma granted the organization when they came to Oklahoma,” said Roberts on Friday.
On Saturday, each member of the Thunder organization, all wearing “Black Lives Matter” shirts, knelt in unison, as did their opponents, the Utah Jazz.
“It was special,” OKC captain Chris Paul said after the game. “To be able to do that together, as a team. and to do it right there in front of ‘Black Lives Matter…”
Taking a knee during the anthem, a controversial practice begun by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, has come into renewed focus in the wake Geroge Floyd’s death, and the subsequent demonstrations and riots that consumed the country. The NFL league office, which previously had issued fines for kneeling, issued a lengthy apology in June. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell declared, “We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.” Major League Baseball tweeted full-fledged support of the decision by San Francisco manager Gabe Kapler and several Giants players to kneel during the anthem. Nonetheless, the topic remains contentious and divisive amongst a contingent of fans, politicians and other citizens. President Donald Trump remains the most prominent critic in the country. He reiterated his staunch anti-kneeling stance two weeks ago, tweeting, “Looking forward to live sports, but any time I witness a player kneeling during the National Anthem, a sign of great disrespect for our Country and our Flag, the game is over for me!” On Saturday night, he retweeted a post supporting one of the two NBA players who decided not to kneel. The tweet, by Students For Trump, read, “More acts of courage from within the NBA – Miami Heat’s Meyers Leonard stands for what he believes!” Rep. Sean Roberts is looking to take it a step further by falsely claiming, “This anti-patriotic act makes clear the NBA’s support of the Black Lives Matter group and its goal of defunding our nation’s police.”
“Through the Quality Jobs Act, the Thunder is still under contract to receive these tax breaks from our state until 2024. Perhaps these funds would be better served in support of our police departments rather than giving tax breaks to an organization that supports defunding police and the dissolution of the American nuclear family,” Rep. Roberts stated.
“OLD GLORY is to be revered, cherished, and flown high… We should be standing up straight and tall, ideally with a salute, or a hand on heart. There are other things you can protest, but not our Great American Flag – NO KNEELING!” Trump tweeted in June.
NBA bylaws, which have not been officially amended, have prohibited kneeling during the national anthem since the 1980s. However, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said last month that the league would not punish those who chose to kneel given the “highly unusual times.” In a statement released last week, Silver said, “I respect our teams’ unified act of peaceful protest for social justice and under these unique circumstances will not enforce our long-standing rule requiring standing during the playing of our national anthem.”