A number of NBA figures have spoken out against President Donald Trump in the months since his election and the weeks since his inauguration. For the most part, the responses have been serious. Head coaches Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, and Stan Van Gundy have offered thoughtful takes on the state of the nation and Trump’s divisive approach, while players like Kyle Lowry have addressed the issue in more direct, but no less powerful language (like “calling Trump’s Muslim travel ban “bulls—“). At the same time, players and coaches have gotten in some jokes at Trump’s expense, most of which have covered “alternative facts” or press secretary Sean Spicer’s attempts to tell the media how to measure the size of an inauguration crowd.
Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers has made a few of those jokes, but one of his players doesn’t think Trump is a laughing matter. Shooting guard J.J. Redick, a Yahoo Sports contributor via his podcast for The Vertical, says the Trump presidency terrifies him. From Mike DiGiovanna for the Los Angeles Times:
Clippers Coach Doc Rivers, in a playful mood after a Jan. 11 win over Orlando, had an off-the-wall request of reporters as he ended his news conference: Ask the players who would follow him into the interview room who they liked in the upcoming boxing match between rappers Chris Brown and Soulja Boy. […]
“I spent most of my day reading op-eds on [Donald] Trump’s press conference,” Redick said, “so I literally have no idea what you’re talking about.” […]
“I wasn’t kidding,” Redick said in a later interview. “I’m a voracious reader … and I’ve become sort of obsessed with Trump in the last six months. I don’t really speak about it, not because it’s not my place or I don’t have a voice — I do. But I would say this: There’s been a lot of jokes and side comments from people in the league about [White House Press Secretary] Sean Spicer and alternative facts and all that stuff, but I don’t think any of it is funny.
“I’m actually horrified right now. People who are losing their healthcare, women who are losing their right to decide what to do with their body, that’s not funny to me. So, you can joke about crowd size [at Trump’s inauguration] and all of that B.S., but it’s not funny.” […]
“Especially now that you have kids, you think about everything,” Redick said. “You think about gun control and what that means, and what’s the best practice for that. You want your kids to grow up in a world that’s better than the one you grew up in. I’m not talking about my own family’s wealth. I’m talking about the actual world and all the issues that we have.”
Rivers encourages his players to be more socially conscious, and he applauds Redick’s efforts “because it’s real life,” the coach said. “What we do is not real life. This is a make-believe world, but once you walk outside the arena you’re in the world, and I think our guys need to try to be involved with it.”
It’s not clear when Redick gave this second interview, but the focus on “alternative facts” and Spicer suggests that it took place before Trump signed the executive order banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Several court orders have changed the terms of the ban, but the ongoing discussion has defined the early days of the Trump presidency and would likely have been on Redick’s mind.
If that’s the case, then Redick has likely only seen more jokes about Trump and his administration over the last week. Gaffes and lies such as Kellyanne Conway’s reference to the nonexistent “Bowling Green Massacre” and Trump’s apparent ignorance regarding the life (and death) of abolitionist Frederick Douglass have set off a flurry of jokes on social media, most of which has centered around the baffling incompetence and lack of knowledge at the highest levels of the United States government. Someone inclined to take the threat of Trump very seriously probably wouldn’t like most of these jokes, and it’s possible that Redick is now more stone-faced than ever.
At the same time, humor doesn’t necessarily substitute for a lack of seriousness. Much of what we’ve seen on Twitter and elsewhere is less goofy ribbing and more gallows humor. It’s a way of managing stress and concern, an attempt to keep ourselves sane in the face of genuine, worldwide upheaval. We joke as a means of staying sane — if anything, we do it because we take the problem too seriously. (As our Dan Devine wrote in this week’s Ball Don’t Lie newsletter, it’s possible to use basketball to the same ends.)
That doesn’t mean Redick is a humorless scold. In fact, his point is a very good one from at least one perspective. It’s often too easy to use current events as a shortcut, as a way of making a joke topical without really thinking about the issue at hand. Joking about Trump and his advisers at all isn’t the problem — it’s joking about them without taking what they represent seriously. The key is, as Rivers says, to be involved in the world no matter your position in it.
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