Why no one should be calling it the NBA ‘snitch line’

Los Angeles Lakers centre Dwight Howard. (David Zalubowski/AP)

As a measure to protect its staff and players, ahead of the resumption of basketball after a four-and-a-half month pandemic-imposed hiatus, the NBA created a hotline for reporting health and safety protocol violations inside its “bubble.” And since players arrived at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida on July 10, reports indicate that multiple tips have been made through the anonymous line.

You’d think that the fact it’s being used would be proof of how necessary it is, a welcome tool to protect the health of everyone making the season restart possible. But the good the service provides isn’t reflected in the language that’s being used to describe it.

The tip line is being commonly referred to as the “snitch line.” And not only is that an ugly and potentially dangerous term, it’s not even accurate.

That hasn’t stopped it from turning up in headlines, though. TV shows have put “snitching” in their chyron graphics; snitch parody videos have been produced; and when asked about the tip line, Shaquille O’Neal gave voice to a popular opinion, saying, “I don’t condone snitching. Snitches get stitches where I come from.”

Even current players are joking about it. And one of the players throwing shade at anyone who dares to report is Rudy Gobert. Gobert was not only the first NBA player to publicly disclose he had the virus in March, he also just got his sense of smell back. Patient Zero should know better than to say things like, “I don’t know if someone’s gonna use it, but I think it’s sort of petty.”

Spencer Dinwiddie, one of the league’s most thoughtful ambassadors, has also publicly and preemptively shamed anyone who uses the tip line. “To all my fellow NBA players: Don’t call the snitch hotline. Don’t cross the line to get Postmates,” Dinwiddie told Bleacher Report’s Taylor Rooks.

The Postmates line was a not-so-subliminal shot at Sacramento Kings big man Richaun Holmes. Holmes revealed Monday he is undergoing a mandatory 10-day quarantine after stepping outside the NBA campus boundaries to pick up a food order.

Holmes is not the only one skirting the rules. Damian Lillard’s bubble birthday party was shared on social media, with nobody in attendance wearing masks or social distancing, and Dwight Howard has posted that the tip line has been used against him, while also both openly not wearing a mask in his posts and making the argument NBA players don’t need to wear them.

Obviously, the consequences could be drastic if the rules aren’t followed. Not only could the season be cancelled, more importantly, lives could be negatively impacted or even lost.

And players are making real sacrifices to make games possible. Alex Caruso missed his sister’s wedding on Saturday to stay in the bubble. Jrue Holiday left his immunocompromised wife, retired soccer star Lauren Holiday, and their young child to be in the bubble, and plans to donate his remaining salary to social justice causes.

Players and personnel who use the hotline aren’t snitches, they’re whistleblowers. Not only do they want a season, they want to stay healthy and to keep their families healthy. If you want to play by any means necessary, holding others accountable is an easily utilized means. There shouldn’t be a stigma attached to behaving like a responsible adult.

The concept of being a “snitch” in general is a harmful, counterproductive one — especially in this moment, when the relationship between law enforcement and the Black community is so fractured. Partially, that’s due to a misunderstanding of the meaning of the term. Snitching is not telling on someone who does something wrong. Snitching is when you get caught committing a crime and give the police information in exchange for leniency.

Shannon Keys, who is serving a life sentence, wrote a piece for the Toledo Blade called “‘No-snitch’ mentality killing Black community”. In it, Keys argued that “Helping to stop the killing in your own community is not snitching — it’s being a neighbor. That’s what all of us should strive to be.”

He’s right, and that’s why “snitches get stitches” is a phrase we need to retire from the cultural lexicon, regardless of the context.

This prevailing feeling discouraging people from working with law enforcement, even threatening those who do, is unique to Black communities. Other people of colour don’t have this level of stigma, even if they have a similar distrust of police. If we’re going to criticize the job police do, we can’t make doing that job harder — that’s not a code of the streets. Similarly, if we’re going to scrutinize the risk of playing sports in the midst of a pandemic, we can’t deter people from ensuring that the endeavor is as safe as possible.

The NBA shutting down was a turning point in the wider public awareness of the seriousness of COVID-19. The league’s restart shouldn’t symbolize that it’s time to stop being diligent.

Coronavirus is killing Black people at much higher rates than other populations. It’s also devastating Black businesses and communities. NBA players and those that cover them should treat anyone who protects public safety with respect, not derision.

This is not a mobster movie, this is real life. Even in NBA bubble.

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