The Philadelphia 76ers apologized Friday to recording artist Sevyn Streeter for stopping her from singing the national anthem at their 2016-17 NBA season opener after the singer appeared at Wells Fargo Center wearing a jersey bearing the phrase “We Matter.”
“We are sorry that this happened,” the 76ers said in a team statement. “After receiving feedback from our players, basketball operations staff and ownership group, we believe that the wrong decision was made, and Sevyn should have been welcomed to sing. We apologize to her, and in an effort to move the conversation forward, we have reached out to offer her an opportunity to return and perform at a game of her choice. We are waiting to hear back.”
Streeter was set to perform “The Star-Spangled Banner” before the 76ers’ opening-night game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night. She never made it out onto the court, though, which she and her makeup artist Tatiana Ward attributed to Sixers brass disapproving of her “We Matter” jersey, intended as a gesture of support of the value of black lives in line with the pregame demonstrations tendered by other singers as a continuation of the Colin Kaepernick-sparked anthem protests prior to NFL games:
— Sevyn (@sevyn) October 27, 2016
“I’d say two minutes before we were about to walk out … the organization told me that I could not wear my shirt while singing the national anthem at their game,” Streeter later told The Associated Press. “I was never given any kind of dress code. I was never asked beforehand to show my wardrobe.”
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According to Jan Carabeo of Philadelphia’s CBS3, the contract Streeter signed when she agreed to sing the anthem prohibited her from making political statements in the performance. The 76ers’ initial statement on the matter declined to offer an explanation for preventing Streeter from performing, focusing instead on the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as an inclusionary event.
“The Philadelphia 76ers organization encourages meaningful actions to drive social change,” the team said. “We use our games to bring people together, to build trust and to strengthen our communities. As we move from symbolic gestures to action, we will continue to leverage our platform to positively impact our community.”
The decision to suggest that protest and meaningful action are necessarily two separate things — something players, teams and the NBA as a whole have seemed to emphasize in recent weeks — rankled many observers, including our own Eric Freeman:
The Sixers obviously took exception to Streeter’s jersey, which replaces the more direct “Black Lives Matter” with the more general “We.” But Streeter’s message was clear, and the team’s response was to silence her voice.
The franchise did not take a principled stand for unity. “We Matter” is a divisive statement, but only in the sense that it calls attention to ongoing mistreatment of a long-disadvantaged minority group that has to deal with cultural divisions on a daily basis. Philadelphia has a long, painful history of racism that has involved de facto segregation to this day. Barring Streeter from making a prevalent and relatively mild political statement does not build trust and strengthen the community — it only serves to solidify the culture of prejudice that already exists. It’s a decision made to comfort fans who don’t want to engage with very real problems.
Moments like this one clarify why the Sixers’ and NBA’s willful separation of protest and meaningful action has to go. The league’s language surrounding Colin Kaepernick’s NFL protests suggests that his actions have laid important ground work for substantive change to come. Yet that foundation does not disappear the minute NBA players start holding town halls and working directly with communities (which, it should be noted, Kaepernick does quite a bit). Plenty of Americans are still unaware or unwilling to listen to the experiences of minorities with the police and other unfeeling institutions. If we have truly taken Kaepernick’s message to heart, then a national anthem singer’s reference to it should not be deemed offensive. It should be an accepted part of the process.
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Of greater significance to the 76ers organization: it didn’t sit well with their players. From Dan Gelston of the Associated Press:
The Philadelphia 76ers held a team meeting Thursday and may take action in the wake of the organization’s decision to cancel the national anthem performance by a singer wearing a “We Matter” jersey. […]
The Sixers players met at their practice facility in Camden, New Jersey, and are considering whether to respond to Streeter’s cancellation.
“Everybody expressed their emotions about it,” forward Robert Covington said. “We want to take steps about it. We just don’t know exactly what steps we want to take. We talked about a lot of different things.”
Later Thursday, Miami Heat forward Justise Winslow posted on Twitter a picture with 76ers forward Jerami Grant in which both players were raising a fist in the air, accompanied by the caption, “WE MATTER.”
— Justise Winslow (@IAmJustise) October 28, 2016
Less than 24 hours later — and before the 76ers took the floor for their next game, on Saturday afternoon against the Atlanta Hawks — the organization issued its apology and invitation for a do-over. Whether Streeter or the Sixers displeased by the shutdown find the mea culpa to be too little and too late for amends remains to be seen.
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