Kyrie Irving was wrong, but he doesn’t deserve to lose his career

OPINION: We are putting a chilling effect on the free thought and speech of Black people, while others who are not Black profit from and are unbothered by doing the same.

Brooklyn Nets' Kyrie Irving looking for the inbound of the ball while playing the Boston Celtics in the first quarter at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York on April 23, 2022. (Photo by John Conrad Williams, Jr./Newsday RM via Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Let me say it plainly: I abhor antisemitism in all its forms. I stand in solidarity with our Jewish brethren. I have been on the record for decades about how much I admire the history and resilience of the Jewish people and wish that we, as Black people, could emulate their economic successes and sense of community support. 

Furthermore, I agree that there has been an unacceptable rise in antisemitism online and off. And that is not OK, ever. So, while we can all stand in solidarity against hate, we must remember that in America, we do have the freedom to believe as we like, worship as we like, love whom we like and most certainly share on social media books we like, movies we found impactful, articles and the like.  

That said, I want to state equally emphatically that I do not agree with the Brooklyn Nets’ decision to suspend indefinitely (said another way: cancel) NBA star player Kyrie Irving. The team issued a statement that read in part: “Such failure to disavow antisemitism when given a clear opportunity to do so is deeply disturbing, is against the values of our organization, and constitutes conduct detrimental to the team.” 

How is someone unfit to play basketball because they expressed a viewpoint or shared a link for a movie based on a best-selling book, “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America” by Ronald Dalton? The book is now the No. 1 best-selling book in the religion & spirituality category on Amazon right now in light of the drama surrounding Irving. Kyrie did nothing wrong but refused to back down from the bullies who demanded that he denounce, decry and apologize for his learned experience.

And after removing him from the team “indefinitely,” the Nets reportedly want him to meet with Jewish leaders so that they can inform and educate him on why what he did caused them pain. My issue is that the man, in this instance, simply shared a link to a film that was offensive to them. I just don’t understand how this is what we do in America in the 21st century. People believe all kinds of crazy, inappropriate and wrong things. Kyrie has always been a wild card. He’s an anti-vaxxer who missed most home games because he wouldn’t comply with New York City’s vaccine mandate, and he once questioned whether the Earth was flat. 

But here’s the thing: Irving did ultimately issue an apology to his personal Instagram account after the team announced it was suspending him for at least five games: 

“While doing research on YHWH, I posted a Documentary that contained some false anti-semitic statements, narratives, and language that were untrue and offensive to the Jewish Race/Religion,” Irving wrote. “I take full accountability and responsibility for my actions. I am grateful to have a big platform to share knowledge and I want to move forward by having an open dialogue to learn more and grow from this.”

That too was not enough. Worse, if we are at a place in 2022 where a Black man in America cannot share a link to a movie on Amazon Prime, which allows the controversial film on its platform, we are no longer America. Why does white-owned Amazon get a pass while Kyrie loses his career? Doesn’t it make more sense for people to be upset with those who put such antisemitism in the marketplace—people like multibillionaire Jeff Bezos, who owns Amazon? 

If Jewish people are offended—and they have every right to be—then they should protest Amazon. Or protest the author who wrote the book in question. Something is awry when we go after a star NBA player, who happens to be Black, when Tucker Carlson, Donald Trump and sitting members of Congress like Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and others have said the most disgusting, offensive and antisemitic things. 

Oh, wait, I know what it is: racism. Racism against the Black man who dares to think for himself, question for himself or explore different points of view. It’s a movie based on a book, folks. It’s meant for people to see it, discuss it and share it in their circles. This seems to me, at least, to intentionally target Black men with controversial views or opinions. 

In the case of Irving, he didn’t even say anything. I understand why Kanye was canceled, as he unabashedly trafficked in antisemitism and was defiant that Adidas would dare not cut him loose. They did. And, let’s just say he found out the hard way: two billion dollars too late that he was wrong. His free speech cost him billions and most likely damaged his brand forever. 

Here’s my point: Two Black men in the past month have been ruined by allegations of antisemitism, yet another example of how strong and defiant Black voices are silenced. Both Kanye and Kyrie were anti-vaxxers, controversial and said off-putting things for years that gave many of us heartburn. My question is: Where is the line? Why are only they ruined or dragged out in the public square for isolation when they offend one group over another? 

That is the question that we must grapple with and answer. Otherwise, we are putting a chilling effect on the free thought and speech of Black people, while others who are not Black profit from and are unbothered by doing the same or worse.

Sophia A. Nelson is a contributing editor for theGrio. Nelson is a TV commentator and is the author of “The Woman Code: Powerful Keys to Unlock,” “Black Women Redefined.”

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