James Dolan is going to James Dolan.
Even in a seemingly simple situation with an obvious course of action, he’s found a way to drop the ball. It’s instructive on just how out of touch he is and indicative of why the New York Knicks have been so bad for so long.
To date, every NBA team besides the Knicks and San Antonio Spurs has made an official statement about the death of George Floyd and racial injustice.
For their part, the Spurs posted for Blackout Tuesday and recently released a video explaining they are trying to listen, and head coach Gregg Popovich publicly denounced Floyd’s killing and commented on racism and racial injustice to Dave Zirin of the Nation.
Meanwhile, Dolan reportedly sent an internal email to Madison Square Garden employees Monday saying the organization is “not qualified” to make a statement in the wake of Floyd’s death and the subsequent protests around the world.
“We know that some of you have asked about whether our company is going to make a public statement about the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer,” Dolan wrote, according to ESPN’s Malika Andrews. “This is a turbulent time in our country. The coronavirus and civil unrest have taken their toll on our way of life. We at Madison Square Garden stand by our values of respect and peaceful workplace. We always will.
“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.”
Those are hollow words from Dolan.
The Knicks are the most valuable franchise in the NBA, and Dolan has generational wealth thanks to a long list of black employees. That makes him expertly qualified to advocate for their humanity.
And even if I agreed on the premise that he isn’t expertly qualified, why has he decided his team is less qualified than the rest in the NBA? Why has he decided his entire company — which also includes the NHL’s New York Rangers — should say nothing? Is he personally disinterested in learning and understanding? If so, he should let qualified employees speak on his behalf.
No matter how you cut it, Dolan shouldn’t be allowed to sit this one out. And that thought is reportedly shared by his own staff.
According to ESPN’s Pablo Torre, Knicks players and employees are “furious” about the team opting to stay silent:
After the inevitable scrutiny, Dolan then reportedly sent a follow-up email to employees Tuesday, saying he “vehemently” condemns racism after receiving national criticism for the poorly received first email on Monday.
“Yesterday, I made a sincere attempt to provide my perspective on a very difficult issue, one that has no easy answers,” Dolan wrote, according to SNY.TV’s Ian Begley. “I know how important this topic is to so many, and I don’t want there to be any confusion about where I as an individual, or we as a company stand. So, let me be clear: we vehemently condemn and reject racism against anyone, period. It is against every value we hold dear.”
So why is this still an internal communication and off the public record?
Taking all this into account, Toronto Raptors fans should take a deep sigh of relief. If it wasn’t clear team president Masai Ujiri won’t be leaving you for the Knicks, this has made that concrete.
The Raptors have been everything the Knicks aren’t, both in the standings and in their response to this issue.
Before it became en vogue, the NBA’s lone Canadian team released a statement that wasn’t vague or full of clichés, but compassionate and direct.
More recently, they amplified the voices and viewpoints of their players.
Ujiri penned an op-ed in the Globe and Mail using both his notoriety and his own experience to bring awareness to the issue at hand.
This is not to say words alone are sufficient. But these words are in lock step with who they are because they do the work every day. Not just when it’s trending.
The Raptors have long supported Ujiri’s Giants of Africa charity with resources and promotion. Ujiri is the first African-born team president in major North American sports. He’s advised by Wayne Embry, who was the first African-American GM in the NBA.
They have coaches from five different countries on their staff, which also happens to have a woman who is also the youngest assistant coach in the NBA. On the court, Toronto’s roster represents six different countries from three continents.
Diversity is the Raptors’ strength.
And diversity isn’t just a matter of demographics. You can also have diverse thought and experience. The Raptors lead with empathy because they consider other viewpoints in their walls every day. And that’s a key reason why they win.
If we weren’t in the midst of a pandemic, we’d be watching the NBA Finals right now — the perfect platform to amplify these issues.
It’s a lost opportunity, but it’s not the only one. And just because the Knicks don’t figure to be playing for a championship any time soon doesn’t mean they can’t help champion this cause.
You’re allowed to say, “We’re against the police abusing their power,” without upsetting an individual politician or a police chief. In fact, many have come out to say the exact same thing.
Which is to say: It’s a cause that has urgent needs, but is also not that controversial.
Military vehicles are patrolling the streets in New York City and across the country. Buildings are burning. Police officers are hurting people and people are hurting police officers. Meanwhile, three officers who contributed in the death of Floyd have still not been arrested.
The centre is moving on this issue and the PR spin industrial complex is making it so that everyone is releasing “thoughts and prayers” statements to get a participation ribbon.
And yet Dolan can’t open up Microsoft Word and throw together a couple-paragraph sympathy statement? Or even let his communications director do so for him?
The confusing fact of the matter is Dolan loves to make statements via Knicks PR.
In 2017, after an altercation with Charles Oakley at Madison Square Garden that led to Oakley’s arrest, Dolan’s team put out a statement and he went on a media tour.
The team put out another during his public feud with Spike Lee over Lee’s use of the employee entrance earlier this season.
Apparently, those are more pertinent issues to Dolan than the police brutality that has America unhinged.
To be clear, I don’t think Dolan himself is the problem. He has an exceptional track record of hiring minorities and women. But in a way, that makes his stance on this issue worse because he’s not willing to stand up for those employees. Dolan the man isn’t the problem — his silence is.
In refusing to enter the conversation, Dolan has told us all that he wasn’t seeing the pain that this is inflicting on his players, his employees and his fans — who don’t have that luxury. He wasn’t seeing that it’s tearing his city and his country apart.
Hopefully he sees it now.
I’m just glad the pro basketball team in Canada is led by leaders who don’t need that prompt.
It’s not a coincidence Ujiri’s hero, Nelson Mandela, inspired his Giants of Africa charity. Mandela famously said, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.”
The Knicks and the Raptors both have power, and they’re on opposite ends of the standings in how they’re applying it.