NBA announces it won’t schedule games on Election Day: But is it just an empty gesture?

NBA announces it won’t schedule games on Election Day: But is it just an empty gesture?

The National Basketball Association (NBA) announced on Aug. 16 that it wouldn’t be scheduling games on Election Day for the upcoming 2022/23 season. Instead, all 30 of its teams will play the day before (Nov. 7) as part of a “Civic Engagement Night” to raise awareness for the election. This announcement, which Shaquille Brewster of NBC News first reported, is part of the NBA’s ongoing efforts to increase civic participation within its fanbase.

Since Breonna Taylor and George Floyd’s murders in 2020, the league has become more politically engaged. It painted “Black Lives Matter” on its courts during the bubble season in Orlando. It allowed its players to wear (curated and often vague) social justice messages on their jerseys that same season. Additionally, it’s not stood in its players’ or coaches’ ways when they want to speak about social issues like gun violence, police brutality, or racism. But, more than anything else, it’s committed itself to the nonpartisan act of getting out the vote.

While league play was suspended in 2020 for COVID-19, the NBA and its players worked to turn 23 NBA arenas into polling sites, lead voter registration drives, and push voter participation initiatives, among other efforts. The NBA loves to lead by example for the other professional sports leagues, and choosing not to be a distraction on Election Day (which should be a federal holiday) is another forward-thinking decision by the league.

Democrats are in for a very hard fight this fall and will need every vote they can get. A voting push by America’s Blackest and the most progressive league will surely help Democrats get elected this fall, but it’s not an exact science. And there’s little evidence that higher voter turnout actually favors Democrats at the polls.

Instead, what would really help is the NBA’s support for policies and politicians that would enact the change the league is always referencing but never addressing, rather than echoing platitudes of how important it is to vote. The league is always telling fans to make their voices heard. But, what’s the league’s voice and viewpoint on these issues? It would be great to see NBA Commissioner Adam Silver call for ending qualified immunity, banning assault rifles, raising taxes on millionaires and billionaires, or making efforts to make the NBA carbon neutral, but those ideas are political nonstarters.

The NBA wants to have it both ways, but in the end, it’s still a corporation with corporate interests. Whatever progressive causes it might want to adopt can’t go too far for fear of alienating its more conservative fanbase.

If the league is gonna go all in on getting out democratic votes without saying “Vote Democrat,” let’s hope they’re at least strategic with their resourcing. Senator Raphael Warnock in a toss-up election in Georgia would probably appreciate any support the Atlanta Hawks could give him. Additionally, there are statewide elections in North Carolina, Florida, Wisconsin, and Arizona where Democrats could all use the NBA’s help. There are 11 NBA teams in purple states, that if resources are deployed correctly, could have a meaningful effect on the elections in those states.

Getting people registered to vote and politically engaged is essential, don’t get me wrong—civic engagement is vital to every democracy. But what’s the broader idea supposed to be here? It’s clear the NBA understands how important this election is, but it refuses to double down and take a real stand. If Democrats fail to retain one or both chambers of Congress in November, how many people within the NBA will feel they could’ve done more?

All this is encapsulated by this quote from James Cadogan, the executive director of the National Basketball Social Justice Coalition: “If we were talking about getting out, registering, voting, making your voice heard in whatever way you think is most important, those are symbols that I think most people can and would support,” he told NBC News.

The hollowness of the NBA’s messaging just shows how empty of a gesture this move by the league is. If this is the best we can do, we only have ourselves to blame.

This story was produced through the Daily Kos Emerging Fellows (DKEF) Program. Read more about DKEF (and meet the author, and other Emerging Fellows) here.

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