Animal rights protests at Timberwolves games also draw spotlight on NBA security

Regardless of the cause or inspiration, the NBA and league security look the worst in the wake of ongoing protests at Minnesota Timberwolves postseason games.

Through three efforts, it seems safe to say the protestors, so far all women, are not violent. The first protestor tried to glue her hand to the court at the Timberwolves' play-in game. The second chained herself to one of the baskets. And on Saturday night, a third was sitting courtside and ran onto the court during the playoff game, though she was tackled almost immediately by security.

The protestors are working to bring attention to one of Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor's business ventures, Rembrandt Enterprises. Rembrandt is an egg business, but not just packaging and selling the cartons in your local dairy aisle. The company produces egg products, such as liquid eggs for restaurants.

In recent weeks, as an outbreak of avian flu hit farms across the United States, Rembrandt put down its entire flock of chickens, well over 5 million birds, to try to stop the spread of the disease. Avian flu spreads quickly and is fatal for chickens and turkeys. The way Rembrandt allegedly killed its chickens has drawn the ire of Direct Action Everywhere, an animal rights group.

According to DxE, Rembrandt used "ventilation shutdown," which the U.S. Department of Agriculture and American Veterinary Medical Association consider a last-resort option. The ventilation shutdown means all barns were closed, ventilation sealed and fans turned off. To speed the process, heat, steam or gas can be pumped into barns, leading to the chickens dying of suffocation or overheating. It is considered one of the least-humane ways to put down poultry, and DxA says it is similar to a dog slowly dying in an overheated car.

The NBA would rather not give the protestors attention, but it's happened three times now. It's getting attention.

An animal cruelty activist is taken away in handcuffs after she attempted to protest during the Minnesota Timberwolves and Memphis Grizzlies Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 23, 2022, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Craig Lassig)
An animal rights activist is taken away in handcuffs after she attempted to protest during the Timberwolves-Grizzlies Game 4 on Saturday in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Craig Lassig)

At a base level, anyone who didn't know that Taylor, one of the wealthiest people in Minnesota, was a major stakeholder in one of the biggest egg producing outfits in the country, knows now. And they know that company is accused of using a controversial method to do it. Of course now that this situation is in the news, they may also know now that avian flu is highly contagious among chickens and can kill them within 48 hours of contraction.

These women have brought attention to their cause. But for those of us of a certain age, Saturday night's incident, in which Sasha Zemmel ran onto the court during game play but barely got over the sideline before she was taken down and dragged away, was reminiscent of an incident 29 years ago this week: the Monica Seles stabbing during a tournament in Germany.

Again, none of the DxA protestors have used violence. But Zemmel and another woman, who began filming on her camera just before Zemmel jumped out of her seat, were directly behind Taylor and his wife. Zemmel pushed Taylor's wife, Becky, on the shoulder, as she moved toward the court, and a news release from the group said she planned on taking off her jacket to reveal a replica NBA official's jersey with the number "5.3" on the back, for the 5.3 million chickens that the group says were killed at Rembrandt.

And that's probably why she was stopped so quickly: With the Taylors sitting on the sideline, it made sense that there was someone sitting close by for protection.

It's a tricky thing because protesting is healthy and often necessary to shine a light on injustices, be they against humans or animals. But if Zemmel wasn't stopped so quickly, she could have inadvertently injured a player during a playoff game, or maybe one of the players would have responded physically, unsure of her intentions. The last thing the NBA needs is another Malice at the Palace type situation, especially since the media made sure players were made out to be the bad guys in that scenario.

The NBA may not want to give DxA protestors any more attention, but it needs to do something to protect the people fans and television audiences do want to watch: the players.