Continued lack of apology or consequences is a failing that extends far beyond Kyrie Irving

Editor’s Note: On Thursday evening, the Nets suspended Kyrie Irving for a minimum of five games, saying in a statement that “we are of the view that he is currently unfit to be associated with the Brooklyn Nets.


On Saturday, while sparring with the media about his decision to tweet a link to the 2018 documentary Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America, Kyrie Irving was defiant. “I’m not going to stand down on anything I believe in,” he said. “I’m only going to get stronger because I’m not alone. I have a whole army around me.” 

Reading the quote, it would be fair to wonder what he believes in so strongly. Well, the film he shared contains openly anti-Semitic messaging and tropes, including fake quotes from Adolf Hitler and Holocaust denial.

After widespread public outrage, Irving decided — or was told — that he would in fact “stand down,” deleting his original post on Sunday and, on Wednesday, releasing a joint statement with the Brooklyn Nets and the Anti-Defamation League.

The statement outlined a pledge from the Nets and Irving to each donate $500,000 to “causes and organizations that work to eradicate hate and intolerance in our communities.”

Irving’s portion of the statement went a bit further than his first attempt at a non-apology, which came via Twitter on Saturday. It read:

“I oppose all forms of hatred and oppression and stand strong with communities that are marginalized and impacted every day. I am aware of the negative impact of my post towards the Jewish community and I take responsibility. I do not believe everything said in the documentary was true or reflects my morals and principles. I am a human being learning from all walks of life and I intend to do so with an open mind and a willingness to listen. So from my family and I, we meant no harm to any one group, race or religion of people, and wish to only be a beacon of truth and light.”

I suppose Irving can be credited for taking responsibility and saying, “I do not believe everything said in the documentary was true or reflects my morals and principles.” But nowhere in the statement does he include an apology or any explanation of what in the film he doesn’t believe.

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Though something seems to have changed since his remarks on Saturday, Irving has yet to articulate what he has actually learned. He also failed to denounce the film and a corresponding book he shared, nor did he clarify or apologize for co-signing Alex Jones and the divisive things the media personality has said. 

Adding to the inadequacy of the statement is the fact that while the Nets and ADL shared it on Twitter and Instagram, Irving himself has not. The point guard tells us he uses his platform to spread light but when it’s time to make amends, he has gone dark.

The Nets played Monday and Tuesday. Irving wasn’t made available to the media either night. Nets GM Sean Marks addressed the media on Tuesday and explained the sheltering of Irving from further scrutiny, which would last until Thursday, by saying, “At this point, we don’t want to cause more fuss right now, more interactions with people. Let’s let him simmer down.”

Your point guard couldn’t be trusted to interact with people? Are you going to take away his Instagram and Twitter accounts as well?

In the statement, the Nets mention community conversations and education. Has Irving partaken in any of that? The team gave us a word salad of things they believe but still haven’t said what Irving did was wrong. It’s clear that in having both enabled this behaviour and once again failed to punish it, the Nets share culpability.

They’re not alone, either. The NBPA, of which Irving is a vice-president, released a statement denouncing anti-Semitism without naming Irving. The NBA followed the same path in its initial response, but on Thursday commissioner Adam Silver released a follow-up statement, naming Irving and expressing disappointment the guard “has not offered an unqualified apology and more specifically denounced the vile and harmful content contained in the film he chose to publicize.” Maybe further discipline is on the way.

It should be. The Nets payroll is $185 million this season. Their luxury tax bill is $108 million. Kyrie’s salary is $33 million. For both parties, a $500,000 charitable gift is a rounding error.  And notice it’s not a fine; this is being positioned as philanthropic action rather than a punitive one.

Spreading hate speech isn’t a problem you can just throw money at. And in the absence of real action from the team with the lowest number of season ticket holders in the league, Brooklyn’s few fans have had to take it upon themselves to send a message:

It’s important to understand and acknowledge that Irving’s actions don’t just hurt fans of one team or one sport. What was omitted from the joint statement is the severity of the issue.

According to the Anti-Defamation League itself, 2021 saw a record high for reports of anti-Semitic incidents, and a 34 per cent rise year over year. Canada also saw a record high for the sixth consecutive year in 2021. An audit by B’nai Brith documented 2,799 anti-Jewish hate crimes, with violent incidents up 733 per cent from 2020, and noted “that even these numbers may be a significant undercount.”

The NBA has a recent precedent for dealing with this behaviour. Heat centre Meyers Leonard used an anti-Semitic slur while playing a video game on Twitch in March 2021. After apologizing, Leonard was quickly suspended by the NBA for a week, fined $50,000 and required to participate in a cultural diversity program.

Leonard spent time with Holocaust survivors to better understand his error. He was also traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who made it clear they only acquired him for salary cap relief. Leonard was waived and is currently out of the league.

I’d argue sending a message to Irving is more important than to someone like Leonard, who has limited influence relative to his limited game.

What I’m calling for isn’t cancel culture, it’s accountability.

Irving addressed the media again on Thursday afternoon. Asked whether he was surprised at the harm his words had caused he said, among other things in a response that lasted more than three minutes: “I’m a beacon of light. I’m not afraid of these mics, these cameras. Any label you put on me I’m able to dismiss because I study. I know the Oxford dictionary.”  

He also argued, “I’m not the one that made the documentary,” and repeatedly claimed, “I cannot be anti-Semitic, I know where I come from.”

There was no apology or admission of the harm he caused, and in that it wasn’t a departure from his comments Saturday, when he told reporters, “[The film is] on Amazon, a public platform. Whether you want to go watch it or not is up to you. There’s things being posted every day. I’m no different than the next human being, so don’t treat me any different.”

Well Kyrie, you are different. You have great handles and the ability to finish at the rim with either hand, which is why your team and league are treating you differently than a role player like Leonard. Due to your skill, your platform is so large that when you spread disinformation, it is more dangerous than somebody going down a YouTube rabbit hole in their basement.

And this is just the most recent controversy. The Nets sat by during Irving’s anti-vaccine skepticism as the Boston Celtics did with his flat earth comments a few seasons ago. He’s previously said the Federal Reserve played a part in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy because Kennedy wanted to “end the bank cartel in the world,” a theory also rooted in anti-Semitism. Last month, Irving shared an old Alex Jones rant against the so-called “New World Order,” which again had anti-Semitic undertones.  

Contrarianism isn’t by default intellectualism. Just because Irving is free to attend YouTube University doesn’t mean he is free to spread the curriculum without consequence. Irving is a rebel without a real cause other than trying to appear smarter than everybody else in the room.

Wednesday’s statement isn’t outsmarting anyone. A non-apology means nothing. 

In Irving’s original press-conference rant, he stated, “I’m in a unique position to have a level of influence on my community.”

That’s one thing we agree on. I wish Irving and the Nets took that responsibility seriously.